THE Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing has reduced spending on new buses for the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC). However this is unlikely to affect the company's current service.
The $356 million cut from the $2.5 billion 2012/13 budget for the buses confirms the current government's intention to keep the JUTC within its current Kingston Metropolitan Region (KMR) limits, and not pursue the development of an urban/rural service, which had been promoted by previous minister Mike Henry.
It has not been explained what effect the cut will have on the importation of 55 more buses which had been planned for this year, some of which would have gone into the rural/urban project which would have also included a bus service for rural students. Of the 230 buses ordered in 2011 from Belgian bus-makers, VDL Jonckeere, 65 are already in Jamaica, 55 more were expected this year and the rest in 2013/14.
However, 15 of the 65 which came in last year were distributed outside the JUTC fleet, with 10 shared equally between the Jamaica Constablary Force and the Jamaica Defence Force and five to Montego Bay Metro which was set up by the government in 1997 as a private entity to manage the operations of a dedicated school bus service in St James and expanded into a municipal bus service in 2000 servicing three routes: Greenwood to City Centre; Sandy Bay to City Centre; and Cambridge to City Centre.
The previous government had decided to import the buses to boost the JUTC's fleet in the KMR, and to service the proposed new urban/rural public bus service envisaged by Henry.
The former minister has maintained that it is unfair for the JUTC to continue to financed from public revenues, but limit its services to Kingston, St Andrew and part of St Catherine without considering the transportation needs of rural taxpayers. However, the current minister Dr Omar Davies has countered that the JUTC's limited service is already below par and that it would be unwise to expand the service without improvements in the KMR. But, he has expressed a willingness to look a the possibility of a limited rural service for students.
HEART Trust/NTA plans to spend some $75 million to upgrade its facilities to rehabilitate approximately 130 defunct JUTC buses. This follows an announcement of a joint-venture agreement on a proposal under which the government believes it can refurbish dozens of JUTC buses idled by disrepair, as a cheaper alternative to sending them to Brazil for rehabilitation as previously proposed by Henry.
The JUTC has approximately 300 buses on average servicing its routes in the KMR in January, but thisis likely to be boosted with the importation of some new buses from Belgium this year. However, one thing is certain: these buses will not service routes outside the current KMR limits.