Some background and realities to bike taxi operation in Westmoreland
Hundreds of motorcycles at the pound in Westmoreland. (PHOTOS: Ramon Lindsay)
It is believed that the extreme prevalence of motorbikes in Westmoreland evolved from the high traditional concentration of pedal cycles among mostly sugarcane communities in the parish dating back many decades ago.
In essence, with economic advancements over the years, many bicycle riders have moved up to be now pressing gas pedals instead of depending on foot power.
And in case it is not recognised, the parish of Westmoreland, alongside neighbouring Hanover and St James, has been very prominent in the emergence and existence of the lotto scam phenomenon. And that's rumoured to have significantly equipped some persons there to step up with their ‘rides’.
But whatever the sources of the thousands of motorbikes that dot the parish, which collectively present something of a nuisance and at times nightmare for the local traffic police, there is also a very useful public service that many of the riders provide.
And that is something which is pretty unique to Westmoreland.
Check out places like Little London square in the parish where, if you ask for a taxi, you will be readily directed to one on only two wheels. This is because for so many deep rural districts in and around the small town, only motorbikes offer public passenger service, albeit illegally.
With clearly no motorbike licensed by the Transport Authority to operate as public passenger vehicles (PPV), it was more than interesting that persons supposedly in the know estimated that hundreds, perhaps close to 1,000 ,cyclists across the parish make a living from the use of their bikes to carry passengers daily, both inside and outside the area.
From school children to adults, groceries and even hardware of all kinds, including even doors and steel, these are readily taken by the bikers from one place to another for a price. Consequently, it is not unusual to see three or four bags of cement being transported on a single bike, in the same way four or five school children readily and skillfully fit with a rider on a bike meandering within deep-rural settings where taxis of other kinds are almost non-existent.
Talk to any parent or bike taxi operator in the mix and the common response is that only the bikes are available to keep the people and their necessities moving in many areas, so the cycles are depended on like any other taxis anywhere else.
So established is the unusual mode of public passenger transportation that it was like an artistic display how well choreographed each group of say four schoolchildren appeared to be in mounting each bike taxi that came along at the end of a school day.
First the school bags are put away before any of the kids hop onto the cycle; then they know how to get on one by one in the order of where they are to be positioned on the bike; and like clockwork, they are off zipping into the inter-lands like no car or bus could.
And even where cars could go, almost everyone Loop News spoke to during a recent visit mainly to the Little London section of the parish, were of the opinion that the bikers had created an industry for themselves. And despite their illegality and the dangers to which both them and their passengers are exposed, their input to the community was too critical to be halted.
“If it wasn’t for the bike taxis, I couldn’t come out here to work each day, and my children couldn’t come to school. It is the bikes that take us out and take us back in, and if they were not here, we don’t know how we would manage with transportation,” said a local vendor.
She said it cost her $200 each way daily, but it allowed her to have a livelihood and a means of survival and seeing to the upbringing of her children.
From the business, bike taxi operators are said to make around $3,000 to $4,000 per day, whether carrying passengers in general or school children on ‘contract’, or combinations of the two.
Others are said to opt for more lucrative engagements in transporting mostly persons of supposedly unsavoury character on various long-run trips, mostly outside the parish, including for business transactions, ‘spiritual’ engagement, and even for special rendezvous.
With many of the bikes said to be unlicensed and uninsured, danger lurks constantly around their operations. But amidst it all, the bike taxi phenomenon remains an integral part of life in Westmoreland, and that seems unlikely to change anytime soon.