JUTC can't meet demand in Portmore

...Company franchising 10 routes to shore up 'woefully inadequate' service

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, August 16, 2019

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THE Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) is taking steps to meet the ballooning commuter demand in Portmore, St Catherine, by franchising 10 routes in the municipality with 100 units, inclusive of electric, liquefied natural gas (LNG)-, and compressed natural gas (CNG)-powered vehicles.

Head of the State-owned bus company Paul Abrahams has indicated that JUTC hopes to fill some of the current gaps, but that at this point, the company is “exploring” how best it can remedy the shortfall.

Speaking with the Jamaica Observer yesterday, he said the routes are now serviced by a mix of JUTC units, sub-franchisees, and illegal operators. The bus company currently has approximately 80 units on the 10 routes.

“That's one of the reasons we are doing this — we believe that it (the service) is woefully inadequate. I think the demand is much greater; we don't have the units to suffice the demand,” he said.

“The problem is we don't have a clue what the current demand of Spanish Town or Portmore is, because those are the two main dormitories where persons travel in the morning and in the evening. And if you run 140 buses out in the morning, you're leaving people behind and you have coaster and taxis picking up persons, and there are still commuters being left behind,” Abrahams explained.

The JUTC head said discussions are under way with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for a commuter survey for the two areas.

“Nothing was done for the last 15 years, so we really don't know how many people we are expected to move, but what we do know is that we leave people behind,” he remarked

The JUTC has issued a request for proposal for franchising of routes 17, 17A, 1, 1A, 3, 3A, 20, 20A, 18, and 18A, with specifications for 50 electric vehicles, and 50 LNG/CNG-powered units.

“Most importantly, it is a totally different category of unit we are talking about... We are talking about electric buses, CNG-driven; we are talking about low-floor 53-seaters, it's not your traditional coaster/Hiace operation. They have to operate in our fare collection system, they have to operate within the total ranks of our operation,” he said.

Abrahams noted that electric units would be a first for the JUTC and the public transportation system as a whole, as he is not aware of any electric commercial unit now operating in the island.

“We may be the first to be given some to test... This is really the way the world is going... One thing that is of concern with electric units is our JPS (Jamaica Public Service) consumption, [but] I think it's the future and we have to make ourselves ready,” he told the Observer. “It may not be something we achieve tomorrow or next month, but one thing is for sure, we can't stick with the diesel.”

The JUTC managing director noted that the bus company is on a drive for fuel diversification, as it now spends between 30 and 40 per cent of overall expenditure on fuel.

“We are now testing some CNG buses, we are also looking at a project for biodiesel; we are also discussing with the IDB, which I believe is on the verge of giving us a couple of test electric units... If we can dent that [fuel cost] by 15 or 20 per cent, we are ahead of the game,” he outlined.

The initial duration of the franchise is for three years, with a 10-year renewable contract subsequent to the successful completion of that period. Online bidding is expected to open on August 28 and implementation is set for October 31.

Meanwhile, the JUTC is also preparing to upgrade its current Electronic Fare Collection System (EFCS) or SmarterCard system, which has been in operation for the past 10 years. Abrahams said the technology is now outdated and the company is looking to implement an updated cashless system.

As outlined by the JUTC, the proposed EFCS must be able to generate reports on revenue by driver, bus, route, depot, and point of sale on a daily and monthly basis, breaking down revenue into cash and cashless transactions, and query transaction by ticket type, route, fleet, or value. It should also be able to give analysis according to direction, time, passenger, fare income, and cycle trips per number.


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