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Montague to the rescue

By Balford Henry
Observer senior reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, June 21, 2019

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Robert Montague, minister of transport and Mining, admits that the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) is facing some serious challenges in discharging its duties, but insists that the issues are being addressed.

Montague told the House of Representatives recently that the company is supposed to be rolling out 430 buses daily, but currently it is only rolling out 360 buses on average.

“The fleet we inherited is old and was not properly maintained, but we have introduced a rigorous maintenance and security programme,” he said.

The most recent problem affecting the service has been fires which have been destroying buses. Recently, three fires were reported over a seven-day period. In response, the management of the bus company said the issues arising from each of those incidents have been discussed and a plan put in place to prevent recurrence.

While investigating the recent bus fires, the company said it found some startling information. Since it intensified its monitoring and assessment over the course of two weeks, it has unearthed what appears to be substandard workmanship which may have caused two of the three fires.

Managing Director Paul Abrahams said that it appears that there are efforts to undermine the operations of the bus company, from both internal and external sources, and which includes attacks on members of staff and its assets.

“During preventative fire checks these past two weekends, we have found instances of serious breaches, including but not limited to: fuel line being too loose beside a turbo; and a rag that was used to tie a hydraulic line, among other displaced connections in the engine.

“These breaches can cause spontaneous combustion when in operation mode, and may have prompted at least two of the three fires. We are taking a zero-tolerance approach to the recent fires, and we have warned personnel that there should be no recurrence,” the JUTC boss said.

“There has been some pushback on fires. We can definitely say that they were not accidental. The investigations are ongoing, but we have found that there is a network within and outside the company trying to sabotage the entity and the jobs of hundreds of hard-working Jamaicans,” Montague said.

“We condemn this little crew who are resistant to change and do not realise that they are placing the jobs of their colleagues at risk. If you shut down the company. what happens to the other workers?” he added.

According to the minister, the problems started when the company employed a senior person to improve security, and when it started to convert the buses to the El Hydro system. This system, the minister explained, removes the responsibility of the JUTC for keeping oil and other lubricants and saves an average five oil changes per year, Montague explained.

“We have tightened up on the fare box, and we have done a pilot on a monitoring, tracking and maintenance system,” he said.

According to him, the fare box system is old and operates offline. However, over the years this has created a shortfall, as it sometimes takes up to three days for the system to be reconciled. Many times the workers are accused, wrongfully,” he noted.

Among problems affecting the system, said Montague, are that the buses are idle for about 40 per cent of the time, there is massive over-breaking and speeding, and the company's own cameras have detected theft from the fare box on two occasions in the pilot.

He said that stoning of the buses has also continued to be a major concern, and has been costly. Figures show that between 2015 and the present, there have been over 400 incidents of stoning, an average of 1.6 incidents per week, costing the company $430 million.

“The cost of removing one windshield is $1.1 million. Furthermore, they have to be imported from Europe, and that is not cheap,” Montague said.


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