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President of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) Patrick McIntosh has said that the government and the JUTC were mindful of the impact that the proposed bus fare increase would have on the poor, but noted that a new fare structure was needed for the effective operation of the bus company.”We are mindful of the impact on the poor. We are also mindful that we need to have a proper functioning public transportation system and one that is comparable to any other in the developing world. We also recognise that it is needed as part of the foundation for successful economic activity,” Mr. McIntosh told residents of Spanish Town, at a public consultation held on August 5 at the Phillipo Baptist Church in St. Catherine.
The event, organized by Office of Utilities Regulations (OUR), is part of a series of meetings being held in the corporate area, to hear the public’s views and concerns about the new bus fare structure, which is being considered by the government and if approved, could take effect within the next few weeks.
The JUTC is proposing a concessionary fare of $20 for children, the aged and the disabled, and an adult fare of $60. Commuters now pay $30 to travel within the city and $40 to travel to Portmore and Spanish Town, while the concessionary fare is $15.
Mr. McIntosh told the residents, that the new fare structure would enable the JUTC to cover the cost of running its operations, since the government could not afford to put any more resources into the bus company.
The state is currently contributing approximately $1.24 billion towards the annual expenses of the JUTC, in addition to some $6 billion already invested in the company.
Additionally, Mr. McIntosh informed that the government was looking at providing $2.2 billion towards debt payments and to maintain the concessionary fare. “But the reality is, we cannot go back to a system like the one we had before and to sustain what we have, we have to look at recovering our operating cost from the farebox,” he pointed put.
Meanwhile, Mr. McIntosh said, the JUTC was currently rationalising bus routes and had established a route management unit, which would be responsible for monitoring the buses and deploying them to points where they were most needed. He said further, that starting September, the company would be establishing bus timetables, which would be placed at strategic points in the network.
The residents for their part, expressed concern that the increase was being considered at a time when the public sector Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was still in effect. They also complained about the poor condition of some units, frequent breakdowns, and the need to have air conditioning units or fans installed in the vehicles.
Dennis Rowe, a resident, pointed to the lack of respect shown to senior citizens and the physically challenged by some passengers. He also spoke of the indisciplined behaviour of some commuters, while citing incidents where persons would prevent others from sitting by placing their bags on the seats. “Until you have discipline in the bus service, you are not going to do better. Even if you raise the fare to $100 and you do not have discipline in the bus service, you’re always going to operate at a loss,” he stated.
Responding, Mr. McIntosh said that the JUTC would be embarking on a public education programme aimed at teaching persons how to interact with others on the buses. “This is something that we will have to include as part of our education and marketing promotion, which we are about to launch in terms of sensitising the public on how they can be more courteous and respectful of each other,” he stated.
J. Paul Morgan, Director General of the OUR and David Geddes, Director of Consumer and Public Affairs, also participated in the meeting. The next consultation is scheduled for Tuesday (Aug. 9) at the Portmore Lion’s Club Centre in Edgewater, starting at 8:00 p.m.