JIS News

Come next year, the government-owned Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) will be placing increased focus on improving its operations, including strengthening its fleet, as it strives to provide a safe, modern, and reliable bus system for the travelling public.
Managing Director, Paul Abrahams, tells JIS News that the JUTC “suffers tremendously” from an aged fleet, and the “lack of funding to maintain such a fleet, creates for the company, one of its most urgent issues right now, which is the ability to roll out a reliable fleet.”
According to Mr. Abrahams, the company dispatches about 300 buses to operate in on Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA) on a daily basis and by 11:00 am to noon, 25 to 30 per cent of those buses have returned for maintenance problems, which affect the afternoon schedule.
“Once that happens, scheduling, rostering, expenses, lack of revenue, all plug into that factor. I believe that is one of the greatest concerns now that the JUTC must resolve,” Mr. Abrahams says.
Recently, the company unveiled a fully reconditioned bus, as part of a major overseas rehabilitation programme being pursued.
This initiative, which is being undertaken in collaboration with the Ministry of Transport and Works, is geared towards complementing the 200 new buses slated to arrive in 2010. The bus, which was previously earmarked for disposal as scrap metal, was fully reconstructed and rehabilitated in Brazil by Incavel Omnibus E Pecas.
Speaking at the launch held at the Ministry of Transport and Works’ Maxfield Avenue offices, portfolio Minister, Hon. Michael Henry, explained that as part of the trial, one of the 190 units at the JUTC’s Lyndhurst Road complex was shipped to Brazil to be rehabilitated.
“The unit was shipped to Brazil and rebuilt and rehabilitated as arranged, and is now back on the island for the planned road testing. The rebuilding and rehabilitation process involved new body and chassis parts, new electrical wiring, new or refurbished engines, new or refurbished transmission system, new brake system, a new front, to give it the seven to eight-year economic lifespan and to look like the new buses which have been put into the system,” Mr. Henry outlined.
The unit will now go into a serious testing programme for approximately 60 to 90 days on various routes.
“With the over 150 Volvo and Mercedes Benz buses from the lot that were earmarked for disposal being assessed by Incavel’s technical personnel and declared fit to be similarly rebuilt and rehabilitated, the JUTC stands to benefit from the affordable acquisition of the 150 reconditioned buses at less than a third of the price for a similar number of new units, with almost the same economic lifespan, should the JUTC opt to take up such an engagement with Incavel,” Mr. Henry pointed out.
The crashed and badly damaged unit comes with a pending overall cost of approximately US$143,000 or $12.87 million, including shipping, trucking and handling, which is roughly a third of the cost of each of the new Volvo buses (approximately $36 million).
“Thanks to the acquisition of the 200 new buses and the refurbishing programme for the first time, maybe in many years, we will be faced with the situation of a reliable fleet that will go out and stay out,” Mr Abrahams says. The first batch of the 200 buses is schedule to begin arriving in batches of 60 in April 2010.
In the meantime, Mr. Abrahams says that with the directive from Prime Minister, Hon. Bruce Golding, for agencies and ministries to cut cost, the bus company will be placing increased focus on revenue collection.
“Because of the tight fiscal constraint by central government and the instructions from the Prime Minister’s Office…we have to find ways of becoming self-sufficient. We are now under some severe cost cutting exercises. We have committees looking at depot controls and depot expenditure. Two of our greatest expenses are fuel and salaries so there are a number of issues that the JUTC must take a look at,” he told JIS News.
Also being looked at is fare collection, to make the system more efficient and reduce leakage. Since February 1, a cashless system has been in operation on 24 buses and the intention is to implement a fully cashless system.
According to Mr. Abrahams, not only is the existing cash collection system virtually obsolete throughout the world but it creates opportunities for theft and harm to passengers and the staff at the JUTC.
“After lengthy deliberations, we have come to the fact that a cashless collection system would be the direction to go. Discussions are now on as to what system is best suited for the JUTC,” he tells JIS News.
“The system that we would like to see for the JUTC would be something that is convenient and affordable to the consumer,” he indicates.
The Managing Director, who was appointed in November, notes that the bus company has faced a number of challenges in recent times, including the death of chairman Douglas Chambers in 2008 and industrial action this year.
“We had a lot of union unrest that was handled; we had a lot of procurement issues with the Contractor General and we have since settled those down.
“It is to be noted and congratulated the manner in which the Minister took control of the JUTC…members of the board took responsibility in piloting the JUTC during this difficult period.
“I think credit has to be given to the staff at the JUTC. I think that for the first in a long time the staff is comfortable, committed and dedicated and I think it is important to understand that they have had a very bumpy ride and my thanks go out to them for the dedication, the patience that they have shown to management and the Ministry, that they are committed to a reliable and cost effective service to the public,” Mr. Abrahams says.

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