MAY PEN, Clarendon — Former Transport and Works Minister Mike Henry has labelled plans by the governing People's National Party (PNP) to shelve a proposed rural school bus system as "retrogressive".
Henry wants Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller to give due consideration to a rural transport plan to service school children which he initiated before his Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government lost political power late last year.
Henry, speaking with the Jamaica Observer Central in a recent interview, reiterated that a rural bus system, as envisaged by the last Government would have been linked to a broader plan to establish a "multi-modal transport system" across the island.
He noted that plans were put in place before he demitted office to roll out the first phase of the "rural-urban transport system" in Clarendon — followed by Manchester, St Elizabeth and St Ann — in time for the start of the current academic year.
"We were to start in May Pen then eventually move on to Christiana, Santa Cruz and Ocho Rios," Henry revealed.
"The plan was to establish a temporary depot in May Pen, right across from the Works Agency where the Ministry of Transport has land, so that the buses didn't have to travel all the way back to Kingston, so it wasn't something that was just plucked out of the air; it was done with careful consideration.
"We did a full survey of the social conditions in the rural areas and realised that you have Montego Bay Metro, which really covers four parishes, and the JUTC (Jamaica Urban Transit Company) — that is being subsidised by all of the country to only service the privileged that lives in Kingston and Andrew — but you have no transport system in the centre of the island."
Henry, the Central Clarendon Member of Parliament, said the idea for a rural bus system was originally thought of because of the high transportation costs that parents are faced with on a daily basis.
He said the need became even more urgent after three Holmwood Technical High School students travelling to school in Christiana, Manchester from their homes in South Trelawny died in April, 2011 when the speeding minibus in which they were passengers, crashed.
"I can't think of a greater need than to transport the children to school safely, because they are faced with so many dangers while travelling on those minibuses each day. Plus, if a mother can get up every morning and know she only needs $140 then I believe the entire social impact would be great.
"I'm aware of the overwhelming constraints that the Government is faced with but she really needs to look at this rural-urban transport plan. The education minister believes it's important and members of Parliament, on both sides of the House, have asked for it to be implemented. So I don't know why they would want to even consider scrapping the programme," said Henry.
Henry said comments made by the current Transport and Works Minister Dr Omar Davies earlier this year, stating that that the country could not afford the cost of financing a rural bus system at this time, is therefore "unbelievable".
"We cannot continue to subsidise a transportation system that only benefits the urban areas. We all pay taxes in this country, so why should kids in Kingston and St Andrew be asked to pay $80 for fare to go school, while their rural counterparts are asked to pay up to $700 per day for the same service?
"Is it that the children in rural Jamaica are not as important as those in Kingston and St Andrew, or is that somebody in the ministry did not do their work?" he asked.