Bus strike leaves thousands stranded
THOUSANDS of commuters were left stranded in Kingston and St Andrew, Portmore and Spanish Town yesterday as private bus operators withdrew their services to protest against plans by the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) to end their franchise agreement next year.
The close to 200 sub-franchise bus operators, who serve the Kingston Metropolitan Transport Region (KMTR), yesterday parked their vehicles and warned that the protest would not end until they were addressed by officials of the Ministry of Transport and Works.
"We are not being treated fairly; this move by the JUTC will leave our families suffering [and so] we will not ease up the pressure until we are addressed," said Issac Davidson, a bus operator who serves the Portmore/Kingston route. Davidson was among the approximately 20 operators who parked their buses along Dawkins Drive in Portmore, St Catherine.
The scenes were similar in neighbouring Spanish Town, the St Catherine capital.
"We need the Government to come and talk to us; dem cyaan jus' come and tek this kind of action; we have families too," said Dwayne Smith, one operator.
The action of the bus drivers severely inconvenienced commuters.
"Because of the protest I was unable to reach work," said Althea Brown, who was among a dozens of people standing at a bus stop in Spanish Town.
"This protest has really affected me and I hope that the situation will be addressed soon," said Stephanie Reid, another commuter.
The Jamaica Association of Transport Owners and Operators (JATOO) said the plan runs contrary to building the small business sector.
"The policy also seems to be uncaring and draconian as we were not consulted for an input on any possible change," said JATOO president Louis Barton.
Yesterday, the JUTC said it had put plans in place to fill the transportation gap if the strike continues. Chairman Garnett Roper said an additional 33 buses were placed on the streets of the KMTR yesterday and another 20 articulated buses will be put in operation today if the situation persists.
Roper described the bus strike as an unwise decision, and warned that the actions of the operators could affect future discussions with the ministry.
He reiterated that the affected operators were given licences to operate to make up for the shortage of seats to cover the KMTR. He said the JUTC is now in the process of boosting its seat count with another 130 buses to be added to the fleet next year.
Yesterday, the parking of buses along busy streets resulted in a traffic nightmare. Half Way Tree, St Andrew's capital, was particularly impacted after some operators decided to park their buses in the middle of Eastwood Park Road.
It took the intervention of the police to bring back order to the area. The police also gave an assurance that they would continue to maintain a strong presence in Portmore, Spanish Town, and Half-Way-Tree to ensure law and order is maintained.