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JUTC to go cashless

BY BALFORD HENRY Observer senior reporter henryb@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, September 14, 2012    

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COMMUTERS may soon see a cashless public bus system operated by the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC).

Dr Omar Davies, minister of transport, works and Housing, confirmed earlier this week that the JUTC will be introducing a cashless system on its buses “in short order”.

Access on the buses would be granted via a SmarterCard (an updated version of the SmartCard), which is expected to provide a more comprehensive payment system with access extended to some 1,000 outlets.

The current SmartCard system, which was introduced some 10 years ago and should have been replaced by the SmarterCard a year ago, at best contributed only 25-30 per cent of the company’s passenger revenues. The SmarterCard will be responsible for bringing in the full 100.

“The focus is to move to an entirely cashless system, and we will be increasing the outlets (for cards) from the current 30 to 1,200,” said JUTC Communications manager, Reginald Allen, who explained that the new system would allow commuters access to the cards where they can currently purchase phone cards. However, Allen admitted there may be some cultural hurdles as Jamaicans continue to show a preference for paying their fares in cash.

“That has been discussed and the challenge is appreciated, but while the adjustment may be difficult, eventually the public will have to adjust because the focus is to move as quickly as we can to the new system,” he said.

The new system is being implemented in order to improve fare collection, increase safety for passengers and staff, improve passenger flow, increase operational efficiency, and improve commuter incentive programmes.

However, despite the JUTC’s stated urgency in seeking to introduce the option-less SmarterCard, it seems more likely that the launch of the ‘Park & Ride’ system proposed for Portmore, St Catherine, will precede it.

The interest in introducing “Park & Ride”, which simply means parking personal transportation at a designated spot to use a dedicated shuttle service through heavy traffic to and from work, was sparked by the huge success the company experienced with a similar service provided for patrons of Jamaica 50 events at the National Stadium last month. The company is understood to have earned millions of dollars in revenue from the venture, stirring interest in a more extensive and permanent system.

Portmore has been chosen as the experimental dormitory, and very soon residents will be urged to park their vehicles in close proximity to a bus terminus in the area, and use the JUTC service into the city. The destinations are likely to be downtown Kingston, Cross Roads, New Kingston, and Half-Way-Tree. It is understood that the system is so far advanced that it could become a reality at time now.

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