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A massive waste indeed!

Commuters, bus operators say Municipal Transport Centre serves no purpose

BY DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE Sunday Observer staff reporter husseyd@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, April 13, 2014    

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BUS operators and commuters have said that the recently built Downtown Municipal Transport Centre is a waste of taxpayers' money and should be put to different use as the people are not travelling the long distance from the town centre to get there.

"Nobody nuh come down here, nobody," said a bus conductor as he consumed a box lunch in the park on Friday.

"Is mussy just some little school pickney you see come down here more time. But most of the time the buses leave out here empty, empty. This is a big waste of taxpayer money. You see how the place empty? See all the bus them park up? Sometime they leave with all one person in it. Is a waste," he said.

The transport centre was built under the supervision of the Urban Development Corporation (UDC), and with some UDC funds. It was opened in January 2011 by Prime Minister Bruce Golding, with the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC) as the original manager. However, the KSAC gave up the centre, because it was unable to continue maintaining it without the cooperation of some stakeholders.

"It better they build a barbershop down here for us, put some gambling den, put some 'go go' clubs, put all kinds of things to keep we occupied because once you come here you not leaving for hours!" Michael Thompson, a bus driver plying the Port Antonio to Kingston route, said on Friday. "I left Port Antonio yesterday morning at 8:45 and I came in here at 11:30 am, and when they sign mi out it was 5:00 pm," he said, showing a log book as evidence.

"If you see some of the hours I am reaching home at nights ... if you was my wife you would leave me because you would wonder where mi coming from at 10:40. You leave Portland 5:40 am and reaching back to Portland 10:40 pm and without money," Thompson said. "You have some days when this is what we write in the log book - 'No work!" he said, showing pages after pages with the two words slashed across them.

Some schoolboys sitting in the park said that they sometimes wait for hours in the transport centre for the bus to leave and this is frustrating for them.

"You see even though I reach here now," said a Camperdown High School student looking at his watch showing 1:20 pm. "I am not leaving here until four o'clock. We have to wait long because nobody don't really come down here, so the buses not leaving," he explained.

They say that they not only leave home before daybreak but also get back home sometimes after 10:00 pm.

Four other students questioned at various sections of the transport centre expressed similar concerns.

Thompson attested to this.

"When I leave down here I don't leave with one passenger yesterday because nobody comes down here. Where the park is located is a big problem. And there is no way they going to get the people them to come down here, because they need to remember that there was a time when people could not come downtown, based on even political events depending on who wins an election. A whole lot

of things happen why the people just can't come down," Thompson said.

And despite not getting a load to leave the centre, the bus operators still have to buy their tickets for $250 for the use of the facility.

"So we spend one whole day inside here and is one trip the bus make for the day," another bus operator said.

However, they said that while they do not have a problem making the one trip, they want to know that they are doing so with a full load.

But they said that no consideration is given to them as they are not allowed to pick up passengers in Cross Roads or Half-Way-Tree, where passengers gather.

"I have been in this bus business for years now and people work in Constant Spring, people work in Half-Way-Tree, in the Papine area," Thompson explained. "And so it's hard to ask those people to leave up there and take bus and come down here when the buses pass through those areas. People not going to do that," he said.

"They are not going to leave work five o'clock in the evening and come downtown to get a bus that pass through Half-Way-Tree. And if you carry people from country come downtown to do business, as they finish their business they gone Half-Way-Tree gone look vehicle. So is really Half-Way-Tree we have to go and they (Transport Authority) don't want us up there," he said.

In fact, they said that they have been told by the Transport Authority that they are not allowed to pick up passengers after leaving the Downtown Transport Centre until they get to Stony Hill.

"We have to go through Cross Roads, we have to go through Constant Spring and we still can't pick up because we are being told that the only place we can pick up after we leave downtown is Stony Hill," Thompson said. "That is serious madness. It just cannot work! And we need people who understand what is happening and see what is happening to come down here and make the decisions. We don't need people who drive their pretty Prado and park up in their offices and sit down in these office and make decision for bus man, it can't work! They need to come and see what is happening here!" he said.

One bus driver explained that as a result of not having a designated area in Half-Way-Tree to pick up passengers, rural buses have to be driving around, sometimes causing traffic jams, just to get passengers for the return trip.

"How can I be down there (Municipal Transport Centre) from 11:30 am until 5:00 pm and drive off a empty bus to go to Port Antonio where I live? And when I get to Half-Way-Tree where the passengers are, I am told I can't pick them up. That doesn't make any sense! And when you do get to pick up passenger up there, the Transport Authority person empty off the bus and tell you to drive? That make sense? You not getting anybody in the park down here and you can't pick up along the way. When you pick up they empty the bus, so what they telling you is that you should go back to country empty," he said.

"What they need to do is set up a place in Half-Way-Tree to say... Portland buses pick up here. We not going there to make a bus park and 10 of us park there one time. We regulate ourselves already, one bus at a time. Just the way we do it now, and when that one leave we go up. Portland, St Thomas, St Mary and so... same thing. The way I see it, this location should be a bus garage where we come and get we bus service and move on," Thompson declared.

Another bus driver noted that they were angry with the present situation.

"We angry and at the same time we are hungry," the driver stated. "What the Government need to understand right now is that they trying to make criminals out of us. We are decent citizens but them trying to make criminals out of us. Because if you drive from country come to Kingston and when you park at Half-Way-Tree with you loaded bus to go to back to country and personnel from Transport Authority look at the people and say 'come out of this bus... driver move the bus!' Tell mi what they telling us to do now? Even if I never had a criminal intention or the intention to lick down somebody, naturally it means it would come to thought. And who is to be blamed for it?" he asked.

Still another driver said that the shuttle buses no longer operating to take passengers from the town centre to the Transport Centre located between Port Royal Street and Water Lane, has contributed to the problem at hand, since this helped commuters to get to the park. However, other operators debunked that theory and pointed out that it was only a sham by the Government in the initial stages, which later announced that millions were being lost through the service.

"The shuttle buses were a sham still. There is no way that the Government could have kept up to using a bus to transport people frequently, based on the amount of money that they say it cost," he said.

"They would not have a bus load of people to transport every time. There is no way that the bus could park up there until they get a bus load so that we could get a load. Everybody not moving at the same time. So they would have had to make many trips with small amounts of people," the driver theorised.

Between April 2013 and January 31 this year, the Downtown Kingston Municipal Transport Centre lost just over $2 million, a cost that the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) says it cannot continue to absorb, even as the agency expressed a desire not to close the facility.

"We don't want to close it, but we cannot continue to bear the cost," UDC General Manager Desmond Malcolm stated recently.

"The UDC has tried very hard to ensure that this centre operates efficiently, and in keeping with the purpose for which it was built. The UDC believes that it is a very important part of not only transportation, but also the revitalisation of downtown," he said.

The Downtown Transport Centre which cost some $400 million to construct, is said to be costing Jamaican taxpayers close to $100,000 per month in electricity bills alone.

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