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JUTC Fare fears - Concerns mount over imminent fare hike

BY BALFORD HENRY Observer senior reporter henryb@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, August 16, 2013    

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MIKE Henry, former minister of transport and works, says the government's handling of the imminent public transport sector fare increase is "inequitable, unsustainable and downright unfair".

In a statement released yesterday, Henry says the planned fare increase will place a further burden on the country.

"The fare increase route, which the Government is pursuing, is inequitable, unsustainable and downright unfair to the country's travelling public, and will only place an even greater burden on the country and the rural-urban travellers, especially schoolchildren from the parishes not served by the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC)."

Henry says the Government must remember that the taxes of all Jamaicans subsidises the JUTC, which generally serves the Kingston Metropolitan Transport Region (KMTR). The region comprises Kingston, St Andrew, St Catherine and parts of St Thomas.

"This unbalanced and uneconomic system produces the following inequity: a child living in Longville Park, Clarendon, where the JUTC has now reached, can travel to school in Kingston on the Executive Service for $500 daily, while his counterpart who lives in Spanish Town travels for $40 daily, over distances of some 20 and 13 miles, respectively. This is while a child in May Pen travelling from, say, Bucknor to Garvey Maceo or Vere Technical High School, distances of less than 15 miles, pays $500-$700 daily," the release reads.

"Notably, all of the above fares will be dramatically increased with the pending fare hike, unless the Government returns to the plan that was left behind by the last Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government, and use our rural-urban bus plan to equitably distribute the cost of travel across the island by increasing the outreach of the JUTC and Montego Bay Metro bus company, and jointly implementing a mileage-based fare structure through the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), thus equating the cost of travel for all bus users."

He adds that this approach, together with the introduction of a colour-coded and clearly defined bus and taxi route system, along with the reintroduction of a selective rail service, is what good governance is about.

"I cringe when I know this inequity could be corrected by a fare table of $180-$200 across the country, but instead, we use the buses which were intended for the Rural-Urban Plan, only within the KMTR, even while scores of new buses remain down for want of servicing," Henry said.

"This overall problem will not be solved by a simple fare increase that I predict will not make the JUTC viable, but only have a short interim effect on its operation," he concluded.

The Government is expected to announce new bus fare increases by the end of the month.

Minister of Transport, Works and Housing, Dr Omar Davies told Parliament earlier this year of an impending increase by September, saying that the public transport sector is bordering on collapse and cannot survive without an increase.

"The changes in price, the exchange rate and the price of fuel: It is impossible for the fares of three years ago to make economic sense," Davies said.

The JUTC had its last fare increase in 2010, when the OUR proposed a fare of $131 for adults and $40 for the concessionary fare. However, the Government implemented an increase of $80 for adult fare and $20 for the concessionary rate, instead.

Henry said yesterday that this was done, taking into consideration the effect the increase would have on the gross domestic product (GDP) and the cost of living.

The JUTC was established in 1998 to provide a centrally managed state-of-the-art public bus service.

The company offers concessionary fares on regular service routes to children aged six-11; students aged 12-18 wearing school uniform; seniors -- women 60 and over, men 65 and over with identification (ID); and disabled persons with ID from the Combined Disabilities Association.

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