They say that perception sometimes becomes reality, and it is unfortunate that today, as a regular vehicle driver in Belize City, I find myself looking upon our diligent, well uniformed Belize City Traffic Officers as I would upon an enemy.
The impression I get is that these officers are in the hunt, looking for victims to pounce upon. They are just doing their job; and their boss is the popular and smooth talking Mayor of Belize City, who is trying his best to manage the traffic while fixing these troublesome streets.
But sometimes I get the feeling like there are traps being set for us helpless drivers. And I have been caught before. Have you?
The driveway in the Atlantic Bank yard on Freetown Road is almost always full. Meanwhile, perhaps the widest street in the whole country borders the Atlantic Bank sidewalk. But for some strange reason, the Traffic Department has decided to paint the edge of the sidewalk red, meaning it is a “no parking” area. The taxi drivers simply ignore the sign, and park their vehicles there any time of day or night. They are standing only a few feet away, so, if a traffic officer stops by, they simply jump in their car and drive off. Unlucky me; if I want to go to the ATM, I have to park very far away, or take a chance that an unsympathetic officer will not stop by while I am inside the ATM.
Now, “the unkindest cut of all;” the Michael Finnegan Market on West Collet Canal Street. When last have you driven your car to the market on a Saturday morning, and tried to find a parking space? It’s usually quite difficult. Almost half the space between Pound Yard bridge and the King Street bridge near the market is reserved for taxis. But on a normally very busy Saturday morning, there are always many empty spaces available for the busy taxis; while regular citizens are hard pressed to find a vacant spot to park in the rest of the way to Pound Yard, or on the east side of the canal all the way from Pound Yard bridge to the King Street bridge.
The two motorcycle mounted traffic officers sat on their cycles out of sight behind parked cars on the east side near the King Street bridge, and waited for their unsuspecting victims. By and by, a few desperate market goers had taken the chance and parked their cars in the taxi section, still leaving five or six empty spaces for taxis, and quickly made their way to the market to try and “stretch” their dollars. The mounted officers suddenly cranked their motorcycles and sped around the block, across the east side of Pound Yard bridge, over the Vernon Street bridge, across the west side of Pound Yard bridge, and on to the spot near the market where the violating vehicles lay exposed, like chickens about to be decapitated.
When the tickets had been written, one officer said to the other, “We better get out of here; I am in no mood to hear any crying and complaining right now.” And, like highway bandits, off they sped on their motorcycles; to keep themselves scarce, until the “dust settled down again,” and it was time for another victim to be slaughtered.
I told the Security Supervising Officer outside the market one day, “Your boss, the Mayor had better be careful that this traffic shakedown does not come back to haunt him. It is unfair what is being done to market going drivers on Saturday mornings; and every ticket given will hurt deeply, maybe at the polls down the road.”
A simple solution would be to reduce the area reserved for taxis on Saturdays, when taxis are very busy and don’t need so many parking spaces; and increase the space for private vehicles. That way there will no longer be eight or ten empty “taxi” spaces to tempt desperate drivers seeking a spot to park.
But the beat goes on. Pass by the market any Saturday morning and see for yourself the number of empty spaces reserved for taxis that don’t need them on Saturdays; while market goers suffer unnecessarily, or become a few more victims of our efficient, ticket-writing traffic officers – eena dehn haad time ya!