Regulator takes bus company to court for $22m

BY PAUL HENRY Co-ordinator Crime/Court Desk henryp@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

THE Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) is now locked in a legal battle with the cash-strapped Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) over the bus company's failure to make payment of $22 million in annual regulatory service fees.

The revelation about the suit was made in the Supreme Court yesterday during what was scheduled to be the hearing of three applications filed by taxi and bus owners and operators seeking judicial review of policy decisions they are claiming to be illegal and causing them economic hardship.

Importantly, the OUR in its suit filed in 2011 said that it is a "statutory body established under the Office of Utilities Regulation Act to supervise and regulate the provision of utility services in Jamaica, which includes public passenger transportation by road, rail or ferry".

This claim is paramount to the challenge mounted by taxi and bus owners and operators who are claiming that neither the State-run JUTC nor the Transport Authority has the legal standing to regulate the transport sector as is being done.

Ironically, the claimants have named the OUR as a respondent in the suit filed by attorney Hugh Wildman, stating that the body has abdicated its duty to regulate the transport sector to the detriment of taxi and bus operators and owners who are affected by the policy decisions complained of.

Two of the applications for judicial review were filed by the Rural Transit Association Limited. The group is seeking judicial review of the decision to use a section of the Mandela Highway, during morning peak-hour traffic, for the exclusive use of JUTC buses. The group is also challenging the authority of the JUTC to issue public transportation licences
and its authority to charge members' fees to operate within the Kingston Metropolitan Transport Region (KMTR).

The JUTC, the commissioner of police, and the OUR have been named as respondents in the Mandela Highway application. The Transport Authority, JUTC and the OUR are respondents in the second suit filed by the group.

The other application for judicial review was filed by V&B Transport Limited and names the Transport Authority, JUTC and the OUR as respondents. V&B is also challenging the authority of the JUTC on the issues of granting licences and the charging of fees to operate within the KMTR. The applicants will also seek injunctions to prevent the further enforcement of the policies by the police and the Transport Authority.

The applications for judicial review and the injunctions were yesterday pushed back until July 1, 2 and 3, reportedly, due to time constraints. Furthermore, the JUTC is the only respondent to file an affidavit in response to the legal action.

Kirk Finnikin, the deputy managing director in charge of operations at the JUTC, said in an affidavit on behalf of the company that it has the authority to act as it does. He said that the Rural Transit Association does not have the legal standing to bring the suit.

Regarding the OUR's suit against the JUTC, the regulatory body said it was forced to file the claim after the bus company failed to make the payment. It is asking the court for interest on the $22 million.

However, the JUTC is contending that the OUR is not entitled to charge regulatory fees as outlined in the OUR Act.

A determination is reportedly still to be made in the OUR's suit against the JUTC.




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