MAY PEN, Clarendon - The Clarendon Association of Transport Owners and Operators (CATOO) has teamed up with its parent group, the Jamaica Association of Transport Owners and Operators (JATOO), with the hope of launching a rural school bus system.
The plans are that the bus service will first operate as a pilot project in Clarendon before spreading to Manchester and St Elizabeth and eventually the entire rural Jamaica, the groups announced at a press conference in May Pen Thursday evening.
The programme, they said, is being introduced as a response to the many motor vehicle crashes involving school children in central Jamaica over the years.
"This is a service that is really needed because of the number of (accidents) involving students, especially in central Jamaica. It reached the stage where parents are clamouring for a public transport system," JATOO spokesman Egerton Newman said.
Less than two weeks ago, several students from Holmwood Technical High School in Christiana, Manchester were hospitalised after the minibus in which they were travelling overturned at Shooter's Hill in the parish. The incident follows a fatal crash involving students from the same school in 2011.
"We think that this project will make some changes to the safety and security systems of the public transport sector," Newman added.
Norma Miller, owner of First Lady Transport and a director of CATOO, said they are hoping to start the service in the greater May Pen area with about 20 minibuses.
"What we are looking to do is provide a set number of buses for each school so you won't have a situation where one bus is running (multiple routes) because that is when you have the fast driving, the loud music and so on," she said.
"At the moment we are looking at Glenmuir High, Denbigh, Foga Road, Garvey Maceo, Vere Technical and Clarendon College."
For now, however, the fate of the project appears to be hinged on how much support the transport owners can get from the Government.
"We wrote to the Transport Authority asking them to look into a school bus system in the May Pen area, but since the change of government we haven't heard anything about it," said Wilton Hayman, also a CATOO director. "All we need is the approval."
"I am aware that the Government is doing its own research to start a rural transport system," added Newman, "but I don't think it is wise for them to consider putting those large buses on these roads in rural Jamaica. Financially, it won't be feasible."
The JATOO spokesman added: "I know you have consultants working and you have to pay them a lot of money. You are also going to pay a lot of money to bring buses into the island, but we are saying instead of doing that, give us some help to put some nice buses on the road.
"These people have been involved in the system for the past 30 years and have been doing a wonderful job. They should be looked at when talking about formulating a rural school bus service. All we are asking is for you to give us some discounts on parts and gas so that we don't have to be speeding to make five trips just to make back the money to maintain the buses.
"It will be very feasible," interjected Hayman, "because then we won't be operating at a loss. If we get the concession we will even consider reducing fares."
Newman said they have already made plans to train the bus operators.
"We have already made contact with an international company to train the drivers. We are also looking to gradually eliminate the conductors," he said.