Robot handcarts!

Cart pushers turn their backs on KSAMC and $3,500 fee

BY JEDIAEL CARTER
Staff reporter
carterj@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, July 16, 2017

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ZERO.

That's the number of handcarts registered with the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC) for 2017.

The corporation, in an effort to regularise market commerce throughout the city, mandated in 2013 that all cart operators register and license their carriages. Some 600 operators responded and became licensed for that year, but did not return thereafter.

The lack of renewal of licences therefore means that there are currently no legal handcarts operating within the market district of downtown Kingston. There also exists another form of illegal operators who opt to sell produce from their carriages — an act the policy did not legitimise.

But despite these issues, Commercial Services Manager at the KSAMC Gary Robotham believes that the policy has not failed.

“The benefits of the policy are still there, which is the maintenance of order, security, safety, and accountability,” he stated. “So while the compliance, if you looking at it from a numbers standpoint, [is low]...because some would not have re-registered, the mere fact that there are those who have and they are still conducting themselves in a particular way, there is still some benefit being had for the municipality.”

Robotham highlighted that despite not renewing their licences, some cart operators still have the plates displayed on their carriages, which proves advantageous to customers whom he said would “have some form of recourse” when hiring plated carts.

“So if you can say I used plate with number 006 and he stole my goods, or I gave him five bags to take from the market and I only received three when I got to my vehicle, once you have called the KSAMC we are able to, from our information from the registration, tell you name, contact number, address, and we can encourage such an individual to the police,” Robotham explained.

He stated that the challenges were as a result of “the indiscipline in the society”.

To address the issue of what the council describes as markets on wheels, Robotham said the corporation embarked on a public education campaign in an effort to deter consumers from supporting the mobile vendors, but failed.

“Maybe we did not do as good a job as we wanted to do but we didn't get the type of buy-in from the shopping public, because if those shopping are partnering with us in the way that we would want those partnerships, then the public would not be buying from those that are selling [from carts], because that's one of the biggest deterrent. If some illegal taxi is aware that by being illegal persons will not be taking that taxi, he will be encouraged to go and operate legally and/or not operate at all. The same applies with the selling from the handcarts,” the KSAMC official told the Jamaica Observer.

“What we got though was by way possibly of our culture is a lot of empathy towards [the operators]. [So persons were saying] these are poor people, these are small people, and these are people looking a hustle — that type of thing. This empathy part, I think compromised that which we were trying to achieve,” he said.

City Inspector Alrick Francis, who manages the enforcement aspect of KSAMC's mandate, told the Sunday Observer that the handcart policy was never a big “revenue earner” for the council.

He argued that the initiative was implemented to regularise and be of benefit to the operators, reasoning that, this is in part why the municipality has not been hard on cart operators in recent years, as it relates to licence renewal.

“In 2013, one of the thinking behind the registration of the handcart operators is that the whole thing was to maintain public order, but it was a win-win for both the operators and the customers. Mr Robotham spoke to the fact that persons have information on those who will be engaged to convey their goods, but what we did also was that we met with the owners and operators of the handcarts at the conference centre and also vendors,” he explained.

“We brought in TAJ (Tax Administration of Jamaica), NHT (National Housing Trust) the credit unions, the banks to assist them (vendors and cart operators/owners) to save and help them with how they can contribute to the NHT, to receive grants and loans. So all of this was not just a matter of we want to register handcarts, but it is to see just how much we can assist these persons and get them in the frame of mind that they are business operators and they must operate as such, and how we could assist them in getting there,” he continued.

He argued that being registered has proven beneficial to the merchants, who sometimes will request letters from the corporation to prove the legitimacy of their occupation to embassies and financial organisations.

Additionally, Francis noted that when the policy was implemented, it allowed for some operators to receive identification implements for the first time, as “some of them didn't have an ID or TRN”.

As to why they have not continued to register or renew their licence, he reasoned that is has to do with society's culture, wherein whenever the Government introduces a policy, it is almost always viewed as “...you want to stop a man's bread... [and] the Government wants to make money”.

“But what has not been communicated is that the initial fees that were charged were heavily subsidised then by the council, because it was never really a revenue earner. It was about how we can maintain public order,” the City Inspector said.

“We're trying to see how we can maintain public order in the city; and it's not to be brutal or be draconian, but it's to reach these vendors and operators of handcarts to see how we can collectively come up with solutions so that it is a win - win for everyone, while maintaining the public order,” Francis added.

The rules and regulations for KSAMC handcart operators outline that only those operators carrying goods will be registered to operate within the market district; cart operators caught selling merchandise from carts will have their licence revoked and carts seized.

Cart operators were to have renewed their licences annually at a cost of $3500 — with $3,000 for registration and $500 for licence plate rental.

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