MINISTER with responsibility for transport Daryl Vaz is pleading with commuters who use Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) buses to give him six months to fix the problems bedevilling the system.
“I am not interested in how we got here; I have been given the responsibility to fix it and I know that I have the support of the Cabinet. I know that based on the meetings with the Ministry of Finance… that I will soon have more buses on the road.
“I am appealing for the understanding of the travelling public to give me six months. Despite how many decades, years, the transportation system, especially the JUTC, has not run at its optimum, I am appealing to the public,” Vaz told the Jamaica Observer on Wednesday following a tour of the Half-Way-Tree Transport Centre on Monday.
“I will be continuing to go there on a biweekly basis and I will be insisting, until the new buses come, that we do all we can to make the process easier for commuters,” added Vaz.
During his tour of the transport centre Vaz saw the frustration which commuters face waiting long hours for buses in the Corporate Area and the shortage of buses on some routes.
“It makes no sense blaming anybody. The responsibility is mine and the team that I am gathered here with, and therefore I have to take it and deal with it,” said Vaz, who rode a JUTC bus as a commuter.
“I asked the commuters today on the bus that I travelled [on] to give me six months… the bottom line is, I understand the urgency; I hear and feel the frustration of the old, the young, the female, mother, grandmother, everybody who was on that bus today… and as I said before, I understand.
“Today was an eye-opener for me — the half-an-hour that I spent in the bus, I experienced what I needed to experience, and that is going to give me even more of the commitment and the urgency to make changes and to get the buses that are required here so that people can travel in an efficient, comfortable, safe environment. That is the least that a Government and a country can do for its taxpayers,” added Vaz.
He was accompanied by JUTC Managing Director Paul Abrahams; chairman of the Transport Authority Owen Ellington; managing director of the Transport Authority Ralston Smith; as well as officials from the JUTC and Ministry of Science, Energy, Telecommunications and Transport.
Vaz reiterated his commitment to getting 100 of the 300 buses being procured as soon as June 2024 and no later than September to help ease what he described as the “misery index”.
He further gave his commitment, to people who depend on the JUTC that the service provided in the sector will be improved.
“Six months will be the start of the transition and transformation of the JUTC with 100 new buses and 200 more to come. So, between 2024 and 2026 we will have 300 new buses, at minimum, because that still is not optimum. Five hundred is my target, but you know the fiscal constraints. However, I know for sure that I have the full support of Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke, the prime minister [Andrew Holness], and my Cabinet colleagues to give me the tools, which is the funding to buy the buses, and I will deal with the rest, which is the administration and logistics,” said Vaz, whilst declaring that he was a man of his word.
According to Vaz, the almost $10 billion which is to be allocated to purchase the 300 new buses reflects the seriousness which the Administration places on fixing the JUTC.
He added that, as an immediate measure, his ministry has given approval for the JUTC to use the emergency procurement process to rehabilitate buses that are to be dispatched on its hill routes.
These are buses within the company’s fleet that were specially ordered to operate in the hilly areas and are currently out of service while awaiting spare parts.
According to Vaz, the refurbished units will boost the fleet of specialised buses that are used to ply routes that take passengers into the hilly areas of rural St Andrew.
These include routes 52 — downtown Kingston to Temple Hall; 53 — Half-Way-Tree to Above Rocks; 53a Express — downtown Kingston to Above Rocks; and 54 — Half-Way-Tree to Border.
The measure is intended to be a short-term solution to ease the long wait times by commuters for buses, particularly during peak hours.
Vaz, who travelled on a number 53 bus and interacted with the passengers, hearing their concerns, explained that while the JUTC officials can redirect buses to alleviate lengthy wait times, this is not an option for the hill routes, as the regular buses are not suitable for those areas.
The minister’s tour of the Half-Way-Tree Transport Centre was to observe activities following the implementation of the reduction in bus fares on January 1.
With the reduced fares adults now pay $70 on JUTC buses, down from $100; while children pay $25, down from $30; and pensioners pay $30 instead of $40.
Come April 1, commuters will see a further reduction in the regular fare from $70 to $50 for adults. Fares for children will be further reduced from $25 to $20, and pensioners’ rates from $30 to $25.