MOTORISTS and passengers alike can enjoy better roads by 2013, the Fiji Roads Authority has said amid concerns over the road conditions in the country.
FRA manager change Mike Rudge said yesterday Fiji's poor road network was cause for a decline in road safety.
In an interview with a taxi driver earlier this week, Motoring was told of a host of issues that plagued motorists and taxi drivers alike.
According to Penijami Ravonokula, a taxi driver based at Suva's Charles Street, police and the Land Transport Authority needed to establish a joint venture that will result in the improvement of road condition.
Mr Ravonokula, who hails from Davetalevu in Tailevu, has been dealt some blows over the course of his 18 years of driving a taxi.
This, he said, included being robbed of taxi fare in an incident that nearly cost him his arm.
"Police and LTA are the ones hauling us over and booking us for matters that concern defects caused by poor road conditions. They should have a joint venture to fix the roads. Suva roads are the worst on the mainland," Mr Ravonokula said.
"Police even hassle us when we pick passengers from places that are other operator's bases. But when there is no taxi where the customer is standing and the customer is flagging you down at someone else's base, your role as a PSV driver is to provide the service they require. Why the cops choose to take it upon themselves to hassle us in such instances is mind boggling since it's the customers choice what cab he or she decides to hop in."
Police spokeswoman Ana Naisoro referred the issue of below—standard road conditions to the roads authority adding that police "just enforce the law".
"Any report from the public we will look into. We will take these concerns on board and refer it to the Traffic Department," Ms Naisoro said.
LTA acting media liaison officer Alfred Wiliame said road conditions were not the authority's jurisdiction. Mr Wiliame said taxis should not pick passengers from other operator's base.
"However, don't get confused with base and stand. A taxi base has many taxi stands.
For example, one would be Suva base, however, there you'll have Raiwaqa taxi stand, Duavata taxi stand, Regent taxi stand," he said.
In other words, a taxi from another base is not allowed to operate in another base, Mr Wiliame said.
"They cannot operate in a Nasinu base when they are allocated to operate in their approved base in Suva.
"We also would like customers to report to LTA on those stands who are always vacant and actually don't have the approved taxis around these stands because when these taxi operators apply for their permit they had given assurance that they will provide the service to that area that is why these permits were issued for that purpose," he said.
So a taxi driver who drives past a base that doesn't have any taxis, can not stop for people standing by if they flag it down.
Meanwhile, Mr Rudge said the road authority was fully aware of the poor condition of the Fiji Road Network.
"It is indeed that poor condition and the associated management issues that lead to the creation of the FRA to address them and the recently announced increase in budgeted expenditure for roads across Fiji. These two actions, combined with the move to a contracted out maintenance service that will allow a sustained improvement in Fiji roads to be made. However, this will not happen over night.
"It is difficult to argue with taxi drivers' claims that road conditions impact on their operating costs.
The poor conditions increase not only costs for vehicle maintenance but can also increase damage to freight and lead to reductions in road safety.
"Initially the new maintenance contractors, who start on January 1 will be concentrating on improved response to pothole repair and improved pothole maintenance standards.
"This should result in visible benefits in the first month. The FRA will then work with the contractors to ensure that more effective long term treatments in terms of reseals, and what we call digout repairs reduce the amount of potholes by more than 30 per cent by the end of 2013. All drivers could then enjoy the benefits of smoother, safer roads," Mr Rudge said.
In another development, Mr Ravonokula said pricey car parts were another challenge for taxi drivers.
"We spend so much money on tyres. It's the most expensive part of the car to maintain at the moment because of the road condition.
"We lose a lot of money on tyres. They rip and tear and burst thanks to potholes and pits on the roads today — especially in Suva. The road condition calls for more attention and repair from the authority.
"We hit a pot hole the lights fall off. So we have to get off and fix the light and then we hit another pot hole. And pop goes the light again.
"How many times are we expected to do this in a week? Is this some kind of joke? It doesn't help when we have a passenger on board and have to tend to such matters at the paying passenger's expense," he pointed out.
Law enforcement authorities need to consider issuing a warning first up and if not rectified, cabbies should then be booked, says the man who attempted to make a citizen's arrest on the driver of a speeding vehicle in Koronivia a few months ago.
Mr Ravonokula was robbed in 2006 in a knifing incident that involved two men who tried to take his day's earnings as he dropped them at their destination.
"A fight broke out as they demanded money from me." He claimed he was knifed on his hand and in self defence, he turned the knife on one of the men and it slit his side.
He said he was charged with act with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.
He said the case was dismissed last year.