WEDNESDAY’S death of the four Holmwood Technical High School students in a bus crash in Chudleigh, Manchester, has revived plans to extend the Jamaica Urban Transit Company’s (JUTC) bus service into rural areas.
Dr Omar Davies, minister of transport, works and housing, confirmed yesterday that a pilot rural JUTC service extending into parishes like Manchester and Clarendon, which have suffered serious crashes involving children and has had multiple problems transporting students, will be rolled out in January.
However, Davies insists that whatever will be done, will have to be pursued in the context of the JUTC’s almost bankrupt positions.
“One can’t proceed in terms of expanding service, unless there is clear understanding as to how the service will be funded,” he said yesterday.
Former Transport and Works Minister Mike Henry was the first to posit a multimodal transport plan (air, land and rail), which included extending the JUTC bus service into rural areas. This, however, crash-landed after the change of government in 2011.
Henry’s successor at the Ministry of Transport and Works, Dr Omar Davies, said in March 2012, a few months after taking office, that while he had inherited Henry’s plans for an urban-rural bus system, supported by arrangements to import over 200 more buses from Belgium to facilitate the expansion, the challenges facing the JUTC suggested that “we should try to concentrate on trying to address them and reduce the losses rather than seek to explore the possibility of additional institutions”.
Davies seemed resolute on that point up to May, when he answered questions from the Standing Finance Committee of the House of Representatives, and again when he spoke in the sectoral debate. Then there seemed to be a Damascus experience. With mounting criticisms of the treatment of rural students using the privately run rural transport system, as well as the fact that rural people were subsidising a JUTC service that did not benefit them, he took an about-turn and appointed a task force headed by JUTC chairman, Garnett Roper to review Henry’s plans and report to him by the end of October.
Then came Wednesday’s crash, followed by a response from Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Holness, calling for speeding-up of efforts to implement the plan to extend the service into rural areas. The ministry reacted immediately by sending a bus to Manchester to transport the students for two days this week, Thursday and Friday.
Three students of Holmwood Technical High School in Christiana and the driver of a minibus in which they were travelling were killed in a similar crash in 2011.