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Not all ZR drivers the same, says Lee

The President of the Association of Private Transport Operators (APTO) Morris Lee, has zero-tolerance for lawlessness on the roads and will not stand in the way of any tough measures to put the brakes on the problem However, he’s making a strong call for authorities to deal with each case on its own merit.

Ahead of a meeting by transport authorities tomorrow prompted by yesterday’s near tragic accident which left 10 children injured after a public service vehicle (PSV) overturned near the River bus terminal, Lee told Barbados TODAY he was fully on board with the tough action taken by the Ministry of Transport.

The accident, which left 14-year-old Zakiya Defreitas, hospitalized with serious injuries resulted in the Transport Authority suspending the permit of the owner of the vehicle, ZR125, increasing surveillance in the van stand and putting additional inspectors on the road.

“I am fully in support of the minister’s response as it relates to the incident yesterday. The minister, as far as I am aware, voiced his concern about owners and the hiring of drivers under their employ. He also took an aggressive position towards road habits that do not bring value to the system and essentially I am in support of what the minister said yesterday.”

Lee, who strongly regretted the incident, however, questioned the action taken against the owner, stating that he was “reluctant to treat the driver and the owner in the same context.”

“We cannot in our case, given the circumstances that took place yesterday, paint everybody with one brush, because I am of the firm view that no one should make decisions with poor information. Based on what has happened yesterday, I am of the view that the driver, through due diligence and due process, must be accountable for his actions after the process has gone through.

“The owner was not even present on the vehicle at the time of the incident. The owner could have gone to a seminar overseas. And these situations you have got to look at them in totality.

“So let’s say you have a similar accident like that with the Transport Board. Are you then going to take action against the general manager of the Transport Board, or the Minister of Transport? So I am saying that we have to handle these cases on their own merit.”

Lee said APTO has been urging its members to only hire competent drivers but he suggested there were rules and regulations governing the process that often defeated the purpose of finding the best candidate.

“The reason why I say that is that most insurance companies tell you that if you are going to hire an individual, they must be 25 years of age and they must have five years’ experience. Now if a mature individual that was involved in construction or some other field of work comes to the system, that person after due diligence found to be a competent person would have to sit down for five years in order to be a part of the system.”

The APTO head also pointed out that even after a PSV owner hired a driver who appeared to have all the right credentials, they had little control over how the worker actually performed on the job.

“Now if that person goes out there and behaves in a manner that is contrary to the expectation of an owner and contrary to the expectations of the insurance company and contrary to the expectations of the Ministry of Transport and the travelling public, why do you want to punish the owner for the behaviour of that individual? Lee, however, did not spare PSV owners, insisting they had a duty to work more closely with authorities to ensure that no incompetent drivers sat behind the wheel.

“One of the major problems that we have been having is that if I, as an owner, discover that I have a driver that is not competent and I dismiss that driver, that driver gets up tomorrow and goes and works for another PSV operator.  I am saying that we have to ensure that we exchange relevant information among ourselves so that when a person is blacklisted, they are blacklisted from the industry and not from the owner.” Still, Lee maintained there were competent PSV operators and every effort must be made to remove negative influences from the public transport system. Failure to do so, he warned, could jeopardize ongoing talks between the Ministry of Transport and PSV owners and operators aimed at developing a new partnership to efficiently serve the public.

“I am concerned that the owners and operators are essentially throwing away a wonderful opportunity to spearhead the provision of public transport in Barbados, because we no doubt recognize that the Transport Board has been under severe pressure for several years and once a model can be found that can be a viable replacement to that entity, I believe it would have the support of the public and the Government. However, there is no sensible government that would even remotely consider entrusting the lives of people into incompetent hands.” He appealed to drivers to commit themselves to best practice and owners to ensure their workers undergo thorough due diligence.

This weekend APTO will be holding talks with its members. Lee was adamant the meeting was not called in light of the accident but was planned a week ago. He however said the accident would be discussed.

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