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Ride without fear

JUTC says proper maintenance of its buses keeping commuters safe

BY ARTHUR HALL
Editor-at-large
halla@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, May 26, 2019

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The leadership of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) is trying to allay fears about the safety of its buses following three fires on different units in recent days.

The JUTC management has also downplayed reports that a shortage of spear parts is hampering its efforts to ensure that the buses are road ready before they are deployed.

“There is no need for the commuting public to be alarmed that our buses are unsafe,” Paul Abrahams, JUTC managing director told the Jamaica Observer.

“We have a robust maintenance schedule. We operate some 400 buses and although we may not be perfect we are doing a very good job at it. The last three fires are cause for concern but the company is moving in a very proactive manner to get to the bottom of what has happened and we intend to resolve this,” added Abrahams.

His comments came after Opposition spokesman on transport Mikael Phillips charged that the Government's failure to provide adequate funding to the State-owned company was retarding its efforts to properly maintain its buses.

“It is obvious that the JUTC is not getting the required or requested resources from the Government of Jamaica to deal with its maintenance issues. In the last financial year (2018-2019) there was promise for a sum to refurbish some buses and that was not done,” Phillips said in an interview with the Sunday Observer.

“There was about $2.5 billion that was budgeted for spare parts but the Public Bodies (Estimate of Revenues and Expenditures) showed that the company got only about $1.2 billion of that, and there has not been any policy change since this Government has been in place to bring in new buses, so the majority are now 10 years and older,” added Phillips.

He argued that a lack of spare parts is causing the JUTC to park some of its buses or send some out with defects like widows being boarded up.

“As it is now, the JUTC needs about 450 to 480 buses to satisfy the demand of the travelling public, and it is rolling out between 330 and 350 on a daily basis. You hear reports of buses making one trip and breaking down before the second one,” Phillips said.

“I have called for an independent audit of the JUTC, not to embarrass the team there, because I think the team is working with what they have because they have basically been given basket to carry water,” added Phillips.

He charged that the travelling public might be in danger because of the inability of the company to properly maintain the buses.

But Jason Brown, deputy managing director for engineering and technical services at the JUTC, underscored the position of its managing director as he echoed the claim that the commuting public is not in danger.

According to Brown, the bus company has systems in place to ensure the proper maintenance of its fleet.

“We have a comprehensive maintenance [strategy] in place where once each month every bus goes into the workshop, without any regard to mileage, or any complaints from the driver, and it is inspected to see if there is any defect that requires repair,” said Brown.

He added: “So it's a monthly inspection of all units in addition to their scheduled maintenance where issues such as oil change, valve adjustment, and coolant flush are done.”

Brown said that during the monthly general inspection the focus is usually on brakes, steering wheels, and fire prevention.

“We have what we call a critical fire inspection which every unit goes through,” said Brown

The JUTC has also announced that it has created special fire teams across its depots mandated to assess and monitor the fleet fortnightly instead of monthly. Each team is headed by a fleet engineer.

Brown also downplayed the issue of a shortage of spare parts facing the bus company.

“We are not exactly where we want to be, but we are about 80 per cent,” said Brown.

He noted that vandalism of buses, including the frequent random stoning of the units, is posing a major issue for the JUTC.

“You will see buses on the road right now with wooden windows, which we are replacing. It is an ongoing exercise but it is a problem that we have been grappling with for a long time. This is a real big problem,” declared Brown.

The cash-strapped bus company is projected to record an operating loss of just over $9 billion for this fiscal year.

For the 2017-18 fiscal year, the JUTC had audited operating losses of $7.2 billion, with estimated losses of $8.1 billion for last year.

The Government allotted $3.9 billion for the bus company in the 2017-2018 fiscal year and $4.9 billion last year.

It is projected that the JUTC will receive $5.1 billion in Government subvention this fiscal year.


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