Remember the JOS? We can have that again

Editorial

Remember the JOS? We can have that again

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

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We are not surprised by the demand for a fare increase from the Transport Operators Development Sustainable Service (TODSS). After all, every sector is feeling the squeeze from the economic fallout caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The question, though, is whether commuters — many of whom have either been laid off, lost their jobs, or had to take pay cuts — can meet any increased cost for travel at this time.

The operators of public transportation are no doubt facing challenges in the area of maintenance as the costs associated with providing the service increase. Additionally, their ability to earn has been affected by some of the protocols — such as social distancing — to stem further spread of the virus.

Against that background, the public transport group is threatening to withdraw service if its demands for a fare increase and improved conditions at public transport centres are not met by Monday, June 22, designated 'Black Monday Stand Down'.

The TODSS has also demanded that the lack of public transport centres be addressed with immediate effect and that Jamaica Urban Transit Company sub-franchise fees be cut by 50 per cent.

Additionally, the group wants Transport Minister Robert Montague to advise the police and Transport Authority to immediately stop towing away public passenger vehicles and ticket the offenders until the present laws are regulated.

It will be interesting to see how the Government responds to these demands, as politicians, for decades, have tried to walk gingerly between the raindrops caused by their political seeding of the public transportation cloud.

Essentially, politicians are caught between two large voting constituencies and face the dilemma of choosing which side to please.

It didn't have to come to this, had our leaders — from the 1980s through to now — run the country in a manner that could give the State leverage to provide an efficient public transportation service.

We acknowledge that, outside of a few exceptions, public transportation systems generally run large operating deficits. However, many governments — and this applies to some of the richest countries — maintain public transportation as a public good. In other words, the service is subsidised.

As it now stands in Jamaica, the State is not in a position to allocate a greater portion of its budget to subsidising public transportation. At the same time, the authorities should not yield to the view that we are already too far down the wicket to formulate a strategy to solve this problem.

For we cannot continue with the ramshackle operation that passes for public transportation provided by people who have no regard for law and order and who risk public safety daily on the roads.

Some months ago, Mr Alberto Luis Moreno, president of the Inter-American Development Bank, suggested that governments stop treating transportation subsidies as a drain on public funds, and instead view them as strategic investments that generate huge social, economic and environmental returns.

It's a valid suggestion, albeit not easy. Yet this island once had a respectable, efficient public transportation service called the Jamaica Omnibus Service (JOS). It's not impossible to return to that type of service. What is needed is the political will.


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