NEWLY appointed Minister of Transport and Mining Audley Shaw was in Parliament yesterday for the Standing Finance Committee's (SFC) review of the new Supplementary Estimates (2021/2022) tabled Tuesday by Minister of Finance a nd the Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke.
However, Shaw listened intently to the arguments raised about his new portfolios at the Gordon House meeting without interfering, admitting afterwards that he is taking time to learn about the issues affecting the bus service before making any comment.
“I have to spend some time learning about the issues before I can respond,” he told the Jamaica Observer's weekly Auto magazine at the end of the meeting.
The main transport issues affecting the operations of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC), which continues as the Government's major challenge in its efforts to creating a suitable system for commuters, was the main topic of the meeting.
A request by Dr Clarke for an additional $150 million to meet immediate salary needs at JUTC did not appear as priority to committee members. They were more concerned about the constant pumping of more than $5 billion per year into the entity, while the quality of service was deteriorating with fewer buses and more staff than necessary.
But, while the Ministry of Finance was taking care of those agreements, the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) was more concerned about the increasing debt of the JUTC which has survived on an annual subventions of above $5 billion, annually.
PAAC Chairman Mikael Phillips, who is also Opposition spokesman on transport, felt that was a need for more strategic planning for the survival of the JUTC.
“There must be some strategic plan to reduce their debts and maybe to consolidate their efforts. I think there are some alternative measures, or plans, to have some cost-sharing strategies put in place. I would love to hear more about what their plans are, in relation to even the types of buses that they are using,” he commented.
“We are now in 2022 and we integrate some new types of buses on the roads. We will never have enough buses to serve the routes, so we have to try and find some other way for it to become more cost effective,” Phillips suggested.
“What I want to hear is a plan. Just as you mention every year, at this budget time we hear of plans for acquiring bus parts or importing electronic buses or more buses using LNG [liquified natural gas], but they never yet expand the programme,” he added.
He also claimed that while the bus fleet had fallen from some 400 buses, to about 250, he was concerned that the company was still paying the same amount of staff that was needed when it had 450 buses.
“But, I want to hear what the plan is because we just can't continue spending upwards of $10 billion per year on the JUTC, and we don't have a plan,” he insisted.
He was supported by Government Member of Parliament Tova Hamilton (Trelawny Northern), who insisted it was a discussion that the bus company needed to have.
“You have mentioned paying staff and reduced [numbers of buses], but it is really a discussion we should have as a government, in terms of rationalisation. It's a very touchy project,” she said.