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Elderly hit hardest by bus fare hike

Seniors to pay 200% more as of Sunday

BY KARYL WALKER walkerk@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, August 21, 2014    

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THE elderly will be the hardest hit when the new Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) fare structure comes into effect on August 24.

Transport, Housing and Works Minister Dr Omar Davies announced yesterday that people 60 years and older will now pay 200 per cent more for bus fares in the Kingston Metropolitan Transport Region. The fare was previously $20 and will now rise to $60. Fares were last increased in 2013.

Davies also announced that all other adults will pay $120 or 20 per cent more, while the fare for children, students in uniform and the disabled will now be $30 and only with a Smarter Card as the JUTC seeks to become fully cashless.

"The reality is that the current fare levels are inadequate and have been for years. In 2009, the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) recommended fares of $131 for adults and $40 for concessionary. At that point in time, the fares were $50 for adults and $15 concessionary. The simple fact is that the JUTC cannot continue on this track," Davies said during a press conference at his ministry's Maxfield Avenue headquarters.

He pointed to an increase in the fleet of buses and the revamping of maintenance operations following the delivery of 23 containers of spare parts and training of maintenance workers as reforms which had a positive effect on the company's bottom line.

The JUTC has been bleeding $250 million monthly.

"The average monthly revenue earned since April 2014 was $366 million and the average ridership was $5.1 million. Losses have been decreased from $250 million per month to $162 million last month," Davies said.

Meanwhile, he said salaries and wages have cost the JUTC just over $584.4 million between April and July this year -- an increase of 25 per cent when compared to the same period in 2013.

Fuel, tyres, toll charges and vehicle maintenance have increased by 37, 68, 73 and 184 per cent, respectively, over the same period for a combined cost of more than $600 million.

Opposition spokesman on transport, Dr Horace Chang, on Tuesday called for an audit of the company and deemed the impending fare increase as a wicked act that would put more pressure on the pockets of commuters.

However, yesterday Davies said an audit was recently conducted.

"I wish to respond specifically to the call of the Opposition spokesman on transport for a special audit of the operations of the JUTC. Such an audit was conducted by the Auditor General last year. In fact, the chairman appeared before the PAAC (Public Administration and Appropriations Committee), to respond to questions about the audit," Davies remarked.

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