Some transport operators are expressing satisfaction with the new arrangements at the Downtown Kingston Transportation centre, just over a month into its operation.
JIS News recently visited the newly opened centre at Water Lane, and got the views of some bus operators and commuters.
While they noted some concerns that need to be resolved, St. Thomas operators, Kevin Graham* and David Burford*, who ply the Kingston to Morant Bay route, say they are quite pleased with the new parking arrangements. For them, it is a major improvement on what existed previously.
The Water Lane facility is the new termination point for rural stage operators that ply routes from St. Thomas, Portland and St Mary to Kingston as well as Linstead via Cross Roads.
"When you are down here, everything is orderly," Mr. Graham tells JIS News, adding that harassment is not a problem.
For his part, Mr. Burford, the conductor on Mr. Graham’s bus, says that operating from the new transport centre in Water Lane has drastically reduced the high level of harassment that they once endured. He says he feels more secure, as he is operating hassle free and does not have to worry about thugs and extortionists.
"Normally, if we were up there (former terminal point), we had to pay about $3,000 to extortionists," Mr. Burford says. He adds that parking in the new transport centre has halted the "special bus treatment," where select buses allegedly enjoyed preferential treatment.
In the former system, he explains, very little order existed. Some bus operators, at whatever time they came to the terminal point, were permitted to load their buses immediately on arrival, much to the chargrin of others who were sometimes waiting hours to do the same. This, he says, always resulted in quarrels.
For these St. Thomas operators, although they make fewer trips per day, their profit level remains the same or sometimes higher, as the extortionists have been tamed.
"It they move us from down here, I will quit the work. I am not going back to the former location," Mr. Burford says, adding that he now enjoys peaceful days and restful nights since the new parking arrangements.
Fellow bus operator on the Morant Bay to Kingston route, David Green* is also relieved that he no longer has to endure the indiscipline that formerly characterised operations.
"Down here (Transport Centre) is safer. We pay less money. First time, every load you get, you have to pay," he says. Currently, bus operators are only charged a daily fee of $250 to utilise the facility.
Mr. Graham also praises the tight security and safety of the facility, noting that there is constant police presence to ensure the safety of commuters.
"The Police drive through regularly and you have a police station (Police Post)," he tells JIS News.
While the St. Thomas operators are, in large part, comfortable with the changes under the new transportation system, some operators still refuse to utilise the facility.
"Some people are still not coming down to the centre. They are still taking the buses at Hanover Street or East Queen’s Street," Mr. Green notes, lamenting the practice of some operators taking on passengers at these locations, instead of going to the Transport Centre.
The St. Thomas operators also decry the actions of illegal taxi operators who ply the Yallahs and Morant Bay to Kingston routes and are calling for additional enforcement from the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Transport Authority.
One Portland operator, who plies the Buff Bay to Kingston route, shares similar sentiments. He says that he is making far fewer trips, due to the low number of passengers on those routes that are coming to the facility. "We are trying, but the people not coming to the park," he says.
He tells JIS News that based on his observations, the St. Thomas commuters are very co-operative, as on any given shuttle trip, most of the commuters who disembark at Water Lane, go straight to the St. Thomas buses.
General Manager of Operations at the Transport Authority, Cecil Morgan, in response to these concerns, says they are aware of the issue and that additional inspectors and police personnel have been monitoring these bus stops that were initially used as terminal points.
"We will be visiting the locations to make sure that what this operator is saying can be addressed in a meaningful way, because we do not want any person to be violating what we have put in place," he emphasises.
With regard to illegal operators, Mr. Morgan says they will be intesifying operations in the Parade area, and along East Queen Street to ensure that persons are caught and prosecuted.
In the meantime, many commuters interviewed at the Downtown Municipal Transport Centre are pleased with the new system. Sharing her experience after riding the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) shuttle for the first time, a commuter tells JIS News that , "it’s alright, it is easy. I just came by the bus terminus in Parade, got on the shuttle and came down here. I think once the shuttle continues to operate then the system can work."
Although pleased with the cleanliness and security of the facility, another commuter says that many vendors are finding it difficult to get their goods from the market into the shuttle, and then from the shuttle to the assigned area for her bus.
To address this issue, Mr. Morgan informs that a special parking permit system has been implemented for buses from the rural areas, which allows them to leave the Water Lane facility and off load the produce in the market district and to return in the evenings to pick up persons and their produce to take them back to their respective destinations.
"We recognise that there is a need for servicing the famers or the higglers that take their produce from the rural areas to the market, so without creating any form of disruption in terms of who should or should not utilise the Water Lane facility, we have created this special permit," he informs.
Operators are advised to apply for the permit at the Transport Authority post in the Water Lane facility. "If they (bus operators) are stopped and checked by the Transport Authority or the police, they can show them the permit that allows them to utilise the area," Mr. Morgan explains.
* Names have been changed to protect the identity of persons interviewed.
Contact: Latoya Pennant