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Bus fares in the Kingston Metropolitan Transport Region (KMTR) will be increased from $50 to $80 for regular adult service, effective next week Thursday (April 1), based on a Cabinet decision made public Tuesday (March 23) by Transport and Works Minister, the Hon Mike Henry.
The decision, which relates to the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) service only, also includes a fare increase from $15 to $20, for the concessionary groups including the elderly, disabled and school children.
In a release Thursday, the JUTC said that, because the competing bus operations within the KMTR are subject to sub-franchise licensing from the JUTC, the same regular adult fare will be applicable to all non-JUTC services.
The fare increase, which averages out at 46.7 per cent, is the first in five years implemented by the JUTC and amounts to less than the aggregate 50 per cent increase granted to taxi operators over the last two years..
Mr. Henry said the new increase represents the Government’s best effort to balance the need to recover the JUTC’s operating costs and lower the level of public subsidy to the company, while providing affordable public transportation within the KMTR.
In a report tabled in Parliament in February the House’s Public Administration and Appropriations Committee, chaired by Opposition MP Dr. Wykeham McNeill, said that consultations with the JUTC reaffirmed that the entity was incurring significant losses.
“Nevertheless, we were appalled to learn of the magnitude of the problem, as it was revealed that the company lost approximately $100 million monthly, even though they held an exclusive licence to providetransportation services within the Kingston Metropolitan Transport Region (KMTR),” the Committee’s report said.
The report noted that representatives of the JUTC attributed the “unfortunate state of affairs” to several causes, including competition from illegal operators and the unreliability of the fleet. However, the committee said it was able to deduce that the company’s profitability was also being affected by other seemingly innocuous factors, such as sublicensing arrangements with other companies.
Over the current fiscal year, the monthly subsidy to the company was reduced from $64 million to $54 million, and is set to be reduced to $50 million over the next fiscal year.
Because of budgetary constraints, the Government has opted to delay by a year, the acquisition of 100 of 200 new buses which were earmarked for the JUTC this budget year. The first 100 buses are scheduled to arrive in two batches, beginning next month. Three additional units, to offer specialised services to members of the disabled community, will also be arriving in April.
The shortfall in new units projected for this year is to be augmented by output from a very successful ongoing internal bus rehabilitation programme, and continued aggressive cost-cutting measures.
The JUTC says it is focused on embracing a new cashless fare collection system, as part of its drive to raise the standard of public transportation, by offering more comfort, convenience and security to the commuters and operators, including greater parental control features for the children, plus better overall protection of the company’s revenue.
The general bus service within the KMTR is also expected to become better regulated very soon, as the JUTC has completed the process of filling the 164 slots for individual sub-franchise contractors to replace the former National Transport Co-operative Society (NTCS) sub-franchise licensees. The new arrangements, which facilitate better monitoring and supervision of the contractors, are to come on stream shortly.
As an introductory gesture, almost a half of the sub-franchise contractors – those who have acquired five-year licences – are set to benefit from an early introduction of their units to the Colour Coding Policy of the Transport Ministry, at minimal cost to them.
In commenting on the fare increase and the overall arrangements to upgrade the public transportation system, Mr. Henry noted that the fare increases were inevitable, considering the rise in the cost of fuel, tyres, wages and many other operational expenses.
“But we have a responsibility to protect the commuters as much as possible in these challenging economic times, hence the long period of consideration and consultation with the public and the Office of Utilities Regulation ahead of the present decision. In fact, the increases now granted are below those recommended of those consultations,” Mr. Henry said.
“We factored in all that we could in arriving at the new rates, and we will in turn hold the JUTC accountable for better service to the travelling public, and improved fiscal performance,” he added.