JUTC facing 'catastrophic crash' warns PhillipsThursday, May 13, 2021
BY BRITTNY HUTCHINSON
Opposition spokesman on transport and works Mikael Phillips has warned that the main State-run bus service, the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC), could face a major crash if there is not an immediate rethink of its operation.
“The JUTC is now in full decline, heading for a catastrophic crash, which cannot be blamed on the pandemic but rather on poor public transport policies and inept management,” charged Phillips while making his contribution to the 2021-2022 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
“I have to ask whether it is the intention of the Government to crash the JUTC?” added Phillips as he pointed to a litany of woes which he said the company now faces.
“The facts are there to substantiate the predicament of the JUTC. Revenue is down, passengers are down, bus availability is down, and bus run has dropped to 50 per cent of where it was five years ago. In truth, overall, the company is down by a half in bus operations and by more than two-thirds in [its] fare box revenue,” said Phillips.
“Yet, despite these dismal numbers, the management remains in place. The unskilled, unqualified and well-connected are being promoted in record time, as shown in a recent auditor general's report,” charged Phillips.
He added that the JUTC fare box has declined from over $400 million a month in the 2015-2016 fiscal year to some $120 million a month, which was not too far from the over $200 million before the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“The [JUTC] corporate/operational plan tabled as part of the Public Bodies Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure document shows a drastically reduced service for the 2021/22 financial year. Passengers will fall by 40 per cent to 27.96 million with an average load factor of 32 per cent…that is a reduction from 52 million to 28 million in two years.
“The fare box will be $2.4 billion, which is even doubtful because all targets have been missed in the past few years. Last year it was only $1.47 billion, in part due to COVID-19…It seems, the JUTC is projecting to operate less than 200 buses this year,” added Phillips.
He argued that the only bright spot for the JUTC is the perseverance of its workers, “who keep the fleet on the road without the requisite spare parts, drivers getting no new units to operate and all this, throughout the perils of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The present state of affairs at the JUTC demands rethinking and reimagining. Before any mischief, I mean an operational rethink in terms of geographical service area, equipment, types of transit services, and how transit services are financed,” said Phillips as he pointed to statements made by Minister of Transport and Mining Robert Montague in the sectoral debate last year.
The Opposition spokesman noted that at that time Montague had claimed that the JUTC was doing well and made approximately 55 million passenger trips during the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
Phillips also pointed out that Montague had promised the delivery of a range of projects during the 2020-2021 year, including electric buses, more liquefied natural gas units, Wi-Fi on 350 buses, a new time and attendance management system, vehicle locator technology, a fully cashless system, 50 new buses, and a mobile supermarket.
According to Phillips, those projects were not executed, leaving the JUTC in trouble.
He declared that the Opposition is neither suggesting, nor would it support closing down the JUTC, “and we will not support any return to the 'lick shot' days of the 1980s which followed the closure of the JOS (Jamaica Omnibus Service)… The people of the KMTR (Kingston Metropolitan Transport Region), and indeed all of Jamaica, particularly transit-dependent commuters, deserve a modern and safe transport service.”
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