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Henry says new fare structure won't help JUTC

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, August 27, 2014    

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FORMER Minister of Transport and Works Mike Henry says the current plan being enforced at the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) to reduce losses will more likely to lead to another $1.3-billion deficit this year.

"They can't maintain the service, the buses are going to deteriorate, fewer people are going to use them and more robots are going to enter the system," he predicted.

Henry lamented the fact that the neither the Ministry of Transport nor the JUTC has produced a plan to deal with these issues, and ensure profitability or an improved bus environment.

He said that the most critical issue, however, is that the Government will continue to maintain a system that is being subsidised by the taxes of all Jamaicans, but is only available to passengers in the Kingston Metropolitan Transport Region (KMTR).

Henry also responded to a statement made last week by Minister of Transport, Works and Housing Dr Omar Davies that the new fares, which took effect on Sunday, are less than those proposed by the OUR five years ago.

According to him, the fares recommended by the OUR in 2009 were in relation to the former Jamaica Labour Party government's plan to introduce an economic fare structure, and expand the JUTC bus service outside the KMTR and into rural Jamaica.

"It was not a fare structure that we could implement at the time, because we didn't have enough buses, we didn't have enough control of the system, and we had just taken over as Government. So we set out to rebuild the JUTC fleet and create the outreach into rural Jamaica by bringing the buses up to where they are now," Henry said.

He said Jamaicans could not have afforded the fares the OUR proposed at the time because the country was not producing the necessary growth then.

"So we set out to equalise fares across the country so that everybody would share the burden, and remove the subsidy over a five-year period," Henry explained.

He said that over the five years since then, the KMTR would have experienced increases in bus fares, bringing them virtually to $100 per stage, and the subsidy would have been removed.

He said that the benefits would have been a far more efficient and fair service, and less burdensome on taxpayers, especially rural passengers who would pay the same $100 per stage as passengers in the KMTR.

Henry said the 500 buses imported over the transition period, instead of being dumped entirely into KMTR, would have been colour-coded for urban and rural services as would the route taxis. This would be the basis for a national transportation service, which would also incorporate Montego Bay's Metro Service serving parishes in western Jamaica.

Henry said that there were several factors which had developed over the nearly 19 years under the previous government that delayed his Administration's attempts to expand the system.

These, he said, included the decision to import the "Tata" buses from India, which were not suited to local needs; and the fact that a number of inner-city routes, including those using the Maxfield Avenue corridor and routes ending up in areas like Waterhouse were turned over to political "dons".

The former minister said he regrets that the current Government did not continue with the "multimodal" programme he had started.

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