Hilly routes slay JUTC's Golden Dragons

Hilly routes slay JUTC's Golden Dragons

Senior staff reporter

Monday, January 25, 2021

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THE 35 Golden Dragon buses which the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) procured for half a billion dollars in 2016 from China have been all but destroyed by overloading coupled with the rigours of the hilly, rural St Andrew routes they service.“Nothing that has gone up there has survived,” managing director of the State-owned bus company, Paul Abrahams told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament last week. He said within a year of plying the tough routes of Above Rocks and Border, the buses started falling apart.

The committee was examining the findings of a performance audit of the JUTC by the auditor general for the years 2014-2019.Repair and maintenance for the Golden Dragon units were outsourced to the local dealer, racking up a tab of $97.9 million over the period.The company's management said the trial run for the units was not enough to predict the pressure the buses would come under on those routes.

“Even though the buses were specced for that hill...every bus that has gone up there has had severe challenges. We saw the cracks in the armour of the buses in the seventh or eighth months. The buses are scheduled to carry maybe 35 people seated and another 10 standing [but] we are carrying maybe 60 people on that hill and the wear and tear on the buses is tremendous,” said Abrahams.Head of fleet assurance at the JUTC, Barrington Brown explained that the trial run was done with seated passengers and a limited number of standing passengers. Once the buses became operational, overloading, unruliness and speeding became a problem. “The overloading is what really damage[s] these buses,” said Brown.

“Any bus that plys that route are usually destroyed by the terrain up there…the 35 buses wasn't adequate to carry the number of persons going up there, and the effects were alarming,” added Brown.

He said the company, however continued under the arrangement with the dealer for another year, as the JUTC could not take on the amount of work that came with rehabilitating the units.Abrahams said the JUTC has taken on servicing of the buses since last August, but there are still challenges.

“It's early days so we will see what comes out of it [but] we do have quite a bit of them that are giving trouble now.”The JUTC managing director pointed out that Golden Dragon buses which ply other routes do not have these issues.

The JUTC wants to give up the problematic routes but sub-franchisees are not willing to take them on fully.

“I have tried very hard to come off those routes...we have tried to sub-franchise those routes but the [sub-franchisee] will operate up to Golden Spring and then they would stop. Our buses go right up into the terrain,” said Abrahams.

He told the PAC that Spanish Town and Portmore, St Catherine, were the JUTC's two major dormitory routes, but that the hilly routes have now formed a third within the last year.

“If you go into the Half-Way-Tree Transportation Centre you would not believe the line waiting...and because those buses are smaller, when they come the commuters are not waiting; they're gonna pack them like sardines. And we have a challenge telling persons they can't go on the bus [as] they become unruly. It's a major challenge. The buses are severely overloaded,” said Abrahams as he argued that despite the challenges, the Golden Dragon buses are of good quality.

“The Golden Dragon buses that do not ply the hills, we have no problem with them at all. It's just those hill[y] routes that have shown up every bus that has come into the JUTC.”

He said at any given time, maybe only half of the buses on the hilly routes are functional, due to constant breakdowns. There are five other Golden Dragon buses in the JUTC's fleet which are not deployed on the hilly routes. The Chinese-made buses form part of efforts to improve service to commuters across the Kingston Metropolitan Area, operating from Lawrence Tavern to Kingston; Half-Way-Tree to Above Rocks; Half-Way-Tree to Border; and downtown to Gordon Town.

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