THE state-owned Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) is now faced with 3,400 accident claims which, if settled in favour of the complainants, could see the cash-strapped bus company having to pay out approximately $820 million.
Newly appointed JUTC board chairman Rev Garnett Roper said the 65 accidents, which occurred in January alone, demonstrate the need for the company's drivers to be retrained. "This suggests that even if you say 50 per cent of these drivers were not at fault, something needs to be addressed there, and that is one of the areas the board will address shortly," Roper told journalists Friday at a press conference at Terra Nova Hotel in Kingston, held ahead of the second meeting of the newly appointed board.
This high number of claims comes as Transport and Works Minister Dr Omar Davies grapples to find ways to put the bleeding bus company in a viable position. "Whether it's amounts owed for statutory deductions, tax deducted and not paid over or amounts owed to various suppliers, the JUTC is not in a healthy position and I am charging the board with bringing to me a clear statement of what are the major issues," Davies told the press conference.
At the same time, Davies said that he was expecting to hear from the board about the true state of affairs and desired action to address them. He said that while he did not want not dwell on the past, he remained puzzled by some of the decisions which were taken at the JUTC by the former Government.
"It seems that some of the difficulties we now face could have been avoided had there been a little more thought in terms of implementation policies," Davies said and cited the decision to send buses to Brazil for repair under the previous administration as one example.
Davies promised to make a statement to Parliament shortly on the overall state of the JUTC, which will not only highlight the deficiencies but the concrete steps to be taken to address them. One such step, he explained, is a joint venture with the Jamaican-German Automotive School (JAGAS) to refurbish the buses. Details of the JAGAS collaboration are yet to be finalised. However, the programme is expected to get underway within a month.
With some 300 buses in need of repairs, Davies said "to the extent that it is possible to refurbish and return them to active service (this) represents a significant boost to the ability of the JUTC to provide the level of service the commuters deserve".
And with the company short some 100 buses, Davies said one of the prime targets will be to increase the number of buses which are rolled out daily.
According to the transport minister, his administration would be ensuring the JUTC is restored to a situation where it can provide the level of service to the ordinary working people and students in the Kingston Metropolitan Transport Region.
In the meantime, he said there were no examples of a public transportation system which actually makes profit from the fare box, however, what is desirable is that clear limits are set as to what the state will provide. The job of the board and administration of the company, thereafter, he said, is to break even within the context of the committed resources.
Managing Director Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin, who took up duties at the bus company a week ago, said the priority for him will be to look at the big ticket items which have been costing the company. He listed maintenance and spare parts among such matters.