HAVING been in operation for almost 50 years, the Kingston chapter of the Jamaica Union of Travellers Association (JUTA) will be leveraging its brand and expertise in the transportation sector to offer a new service to both locals and visitors.
The transportation association has entered into a partnership with technology outfit RedPlate and plans to launch Coaster Premium Service in the first half of this year.
President of the JUTA Kingston Chapter Noel Williams told the Jamaica Observer recently that in its initial stage the service will comprise two routes along Jamaica's north and south coasts. The first will be from Kingston to Montego Bay, St James, via the north-south highway, while the other will begin in Kingston and end in Negril, Westmoreland, with stops in Mandeville, Manchester, and Santa Cruz, St Elizabeth.
The company plans to simultaneously offer a same-day pickup courier service as part of Coaster Premium Service.
“We have worked out all the logistics and we would have set our agenda in terms of the cost that we will [offer],” he said, adding that both JUTA and RedPlate has done research and finalised on a “middle market price”.
“We are going to make the fare affordable,” Williams said, drawing comparison with larger luxury transport providers in the market.
However, he said the service will provide customers with wireless Internet connectivity, water, a snack and newspaper.
“We are not talking about direct competition,” Williams shared with the Business Observer, while outlining that Coaster Premium Service will offer more drop off and pick up stops than luxury buses and less frequent than public passenger vehicles.
He added that both JUTA and RedPlate are finalising arrangements with gas stations and shopping centres to serve as stops along the routes.
When asked about why the company will begin offering services between Kingston and Montego Bay, the JUTA Kingston president pointed out that “it's a more viable route and persons will use the facility…We have done our research.”
Furthermore, he said that both locals and visitors travel between the two points to access the country's main airports.
In addition to providing passengers with comfort, Williams is also adamant about assuring customers of JUTA's safety standards. He reasoned that because JUTA is known internationally, including providing transportation services to tourists and to world-renowned events in Jamaica, the company had a reputation to maintain.
“Our accident rate is less than one per cent,” he boasted.
With this in mind, Williams pointed out the association does not employs contractual or third-party drivers on its roster.
Instead, full-time employees must earn Team Jamaica Tour Operator/Tour Guide certifications from the Tourism Product Development Company.
“We will not be short on having professional drivers…because for you to become a driver in the system here, there is a requirement,” Williams revealed.
“You have to get a report from the police to indicate if you have any outstanding traffic tickets” or a history as a traffic offender, he continued.
For customers wishing to use Coaster Premium Service, they can book their rides using the RedPlate app and board the bus at JUTA Kingston's property on Lady Musgrave Road or any of the stop between Kingston and Montego or between Kingston and Negril. In Montego Bay, the service will have one of two boarding points — at the Sangster International Airport or the JUTA Montego Bay office.
Both drivers and customers will have access to the RedPlate app to track the drop offs and pickups.
With the roll-out of this new service, Williams anticipates that the association will need an additional 10 to 15 new buses once demand begins to pick up. However, at the moment he said that JUTA Kingston has some new buses in its fleet that were either never used before the pandemic or barely used.
The association is now in the process of securing a “contract licence” from the Transport Authority that will allow it to carry both passengers and cargo.
“RedPlate came along and put something on the table that we are comfortable with and we think it was a good idea in terms of a solution for and we think that was something we could work with, hence we decided we would go ahead and work with them,” the JUTA Kingston president stated.
Though tightlipped on how much capital JUTA will need to launch Coaster Premium Service, he said the new service will add to the association's revenue streams and extend to its drivers.
Even as JUTA Kingston fared better than its Montego Bay counterpart, Williams lamented that the association has lost 80 per cent of revenues from hotel shuttles during the pandemic.