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Cops to help JUTC protect reclaimed routes

BY KARYL WALKER Editor — Crime/Court Desk walkerk@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, April 02, 2014    

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THE police are to set up a special unit to monitor the take-over of sub-franchise routes by Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) and prevent any encroaching by rogue transport operators.

Head of the company's Franchise Protection and Management Unit, former head of the Police Traffic Department Radcliffe Lewis, said the decision was arrived at following a meeting between the JUTC and Police Commissioner Owen Ellington.

"We are going to work closely with the police to monitor JUTC and franchise buses. A transit police section is to be formed within the next couple of weeks and we are going to depend on them to assist us," Lewis said during a press conference at the company's Twickenham Park, St Catherine, headquarters yesterday.

To bolster the police's effort, Lewis said the Transport Authority and his team will be monitoring the routes to ensure full compliance with the new regulations.

Yesterday marked the first day of the take-over of six sub-franchise routes, which, according to Managing Director Colin Campbell, was eating into the profit margin of the company that has been bleeding some $250 million monthly. The affected routes are numbers 3,17 Express, 19A, 31A, 32 and 42.

Campbell said the JUTC is projected to earn an additional $5 million daily from the new sub-franchise take-over.

However, commuters have already begun to raise concerns about the efficiency of the JUTC to get them to their destination on time.

Yesterday, a group of people seen at the intersection of Waterhouse Drive and Baldwin Crescent in Duhaney Park, St Andrew -- one of the affected routes -- were clearly upset yesterday and complained that they had been waiting for more than an hour to get a bus.

"This thing lame, man. Them need to come again," one man grumbled.

"You know how long me stand up here?" another woman remarked.

However, JUTC point inspector Clarence Harris dismissed those claims and said the people who were complaining had refused to take the JUTC buses.

"Some of them didn't know what was going to happen this morning and others don't take JUTC. I have proof here that buses have been running every 15 minutes," he said, as he pointed to a log sheet.

Franchise buses coated in bright yellow were seen operating on several routes, including Cross Roads to Waterhouse and Chancery Street to Rock Hall.

One driver of a JUTC articulated bus told the Jamaica Observer that his passenger load had increased significantly.

"Business improve. Dem (JUTC) not going have hand to count money," he said.

The company has allowed sub-franchise operators to do business on certain routes in the Kingston Metropolitan Transport Region due to the unsuitability of the road network, among other challenges.

However, those buses will have to be painted over in the trademark JUTC yellow and abide by strict regulations, Campbell said.

Additionally, all drivers and conductors must be attired in uniforms, clearly display identification cards and the buses must have route numbers and franchise stickers displayed on the back and front of the vehicles.

Campbell said the stickers will serve as a means of identifying the designated drivers and conductors and allow for better monitoring of what was previously an unregulated system, which saw drivers racking up dozens of unpaid traffic tickets and in other cases unlicensed conductors driving buses.

"A lot of times the owners of the buses don't know the name of the driver. If you ask them what the driver's name is they might tell you 'Yellow' or 'Big Boy', but they don't know their names. That is why when they get into situations they jump from the bus and run. The ID system will make sure that they are identified," Campbell said.

Campbell said no markings, tints and loud, lewd music will be allowed on franchised buses and warned that licences would be revoked if rules were breached.

Commuters have long complained that JUTC buses run irregularly and said illegal route taxi and bus operators were a necessary evil as they took them to their destination on time, but the company counteracted that claim by saying a scheduling system was coming on stream soon and buses would be running at 10- to 15-minute intervals.

Lewis also warned that his enforcement team will be targeting extortionists, loader men and back-up men in order to allow passengers to ride in peace.

"These back-up men they usually travel on the buses and disguise themselves as conductors. We are going to check all buses and once a person is found on a bus without a ticket, that person will be charged for travelling on a public passenger vehicle without a ticket," Lewis said.

Lewis also warned that persons who choose to take illegal transportation face the possibility of being fined up to $100,000 or spending six months in prison under the transport act.

He, however, said that enforcement of the law would be relaxed until commuters are sensitised.

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