Case for a decent, efficient public transport service
Videograb showing police officers confronting a protesting bus operator on Long Lane in Stony Hill, St Andrew.

Readers of a more mature vintage will recall the days when public transportation in the capital city was orderly, dependent and decent.

For just about three decades, starting in 1953, Jamaicans living in Kingston and St Andrew benefited from the Jamaica Omnibus Service (JOS) which, was originally operated by a British company.

Efficiency was a hallmark of the service. The buses maintained a schedule that allowed Jamaicans to plan their commute — important for the fact that the service contributed to the movement of the labour force, provided mobility to medical care, recreation, shopping, community resources, among other benefits.

In 1974 the Government acquired control of the JOS under an agreement with the majority shareholders in an effort to have the service continue meeting the demand on public transportation by a growing population.

The reasons given for the eventual collapse of the JOS vary depending on who is telling the story. However, what is beyond dispute is the fact that what replaced the JOS was a ramshackle franchise system that fuelled the disorder now evident on our roads.

In the late 1990s the then Government established the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) in an apparent effort to restore order to public transportation as it recognised the damage that had been done. However, the Administration botched the effort by stacking the JUTC with its supporters. That folly has been maintained by successive governments and so we have today a company that continues to limp, thus feeding the growth of alternative modes of public transport, particularly the phenomenon called route taxis.

That the drivers of these vehicles, as well as the operators of Coaster buses are allowed to operate as a law unto themselves speaks to a dereliction of duty by law enforcers.

It also signals the State's lack of capacity to organise, maintain, and grow a structured public transportation system in keeping with population, commercial and residential expansion across the country.

Such a venture, we acknowledge, is not inexpensive. However, as we have pointed out before, many nations, among them some of the richest, subsidise public transportation as doing so provides benefits of those governments, their people and investors.

Two years ago Mr Alberto Luis Moreno, who at the time was president of the Inter-American Development Bank, suggested that governments stop treating transportation subsidies as a drain on public funds, and instead view them as strategic investments that generate huge social, economic and environmental returns.

There is logic to that argument. It is something that our Government should seriously consider as Jamaicans deserve to be treated as citizens, not subjects. Additionally, the people of this country must not continue to be held hostage by rogues offering transportation services without regard for law and order, as we have seen since Monday this week.

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