Robots are taking over the Jamaican taxi industry as locals becoming increasingly dependent on the unlicensed taxis.
In the Jamaican parish of St. Elizabeth, the Black River taxi park is a symphony of noise as taxi drivers let customers off, pick up new customers, eat their lunch or clean out their cars. The park is a mix of red plate and white plate taxis, uniformed and uniformed drivers who shout out their respective destinations. Customers show no bias between the two different types of taxis that rule Jamaica.
Any car bearing a red plate in Jamaica is known to the locals as a licensed taxi. These cabs are insured, the drivers are uniformed and run a specific route on a daily basis. Though they are the licensed legal taxis in Jamaica, the locals have become more and more open and dependent on the white plate taxi known as the robot.
“The robot taxi is like a hustler, is like somebody wakes up in the morning doesn’t have anything to cook, doesn’t have anything for his kids, so what he do is he go on the road and take a peep,” says red plate taxi driver Neveille Forrest.
Forrest describes them as any regular Jamaican citizen with a car and a driver’s license. The ‘robot’ runs whatever route the driver wants, it can basically go anywhere and do anything. The ‘robot’ will even carry parcels for customers, pick up certain customer’s children from school and more importantly it runs later hours than the red plate taxi.
Business owner Marcia Forrester says she takes the white plate “because we work at nights and we don’t get any red plates at nights. Red plates close off at 6 p.m. and the white plate is always there for us.”
The ‘robot’ does not register, the driver does not pay anything to the government. Whatever he makes throughout the day is his to take home whereas the white plate driver has many out of pocket expenses like gas and is paid on a weekly salary.
“You have to be a bit careful, its more risky, you can go to jail,” says white plate driver Hushane Brown.
Even with the risk of jail time the ‘robot’ runs freely in Jamaica and are more preferred by Jamaicans. If caught by the police the unlicensed drivers may face a fine or possible time in jail depending on the judge and whether they are a repeat offender.