JUTC's reckless ride
The Reverend Garnett Roper, chairman of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC), is featured in a recent Gleaner article headlined 'JUTC can't pay for crashes'. It seems there are hundreds of victims of crashes involving JUTC buses who are having difficulty collecting compensation. One of the reasons he gave for this problem goes this way: "When you compute the total number of trips, the size of the vehicles, the size of the road network, the lack of bus lanes, all of those things mean that the road infrastructure is not entirely appropriate to the size vehicles we operate. So ... you could have as many as ... 180 accidents per month ... ."
One afternoon, I was travelling from Stony Hill to Manor Park. A JUTC bus passed me at blinding speed. I decided to give chase to get the bus number to report the driver, but gave up when I realised that the bus driver was putting an increasing amount of daylight between his bus and my car.
On another occasion, I accelerated near the intersection at the top of East Street in Kingston and got there ahead of a JUTC bus. The driver caught up with me, forced me on to the sidewalk, took the bus on to the sidewalk as well, trapping me there for about half a minute before curious onlookers and the honking of horns behind us forced him to move. I guess these two events corroborate Reverend Roper's explanation about the 'number of trips' and the 'lack of bus lanes'.
I am presently driving a damaged car. That's because a Jamaica Defence Force vehicle ran into it. It's been two years. I have completed tons of paperwork, but that's all. It remains like that as a daily reminder of how we are treated by our Government.
Some of us remember a December 16, 2007 newspaper report headlined, 'UAWU embracing JUTC corruption'. It started like this: "A litany of corrupt actions that have resulted in some employees at the JUTC collecting millions of dollars annually - some as much as three times their gross salary - has been uncovered by the state bus agency's new board. And the new JUTC chairman, Douglas Chambers, says the UAWU is embracing and encouraging this dishonesty."
In fact, three union delegates, employed as 'drivers', were in this group. One - with a salary of about $500,000, collected over $1,900,000. They did very well with overtime payments, too, claiming up to 23.5 hours overtime in one day. This means that they slept, rested, conducted the affairs of their life in the remaining half hour of a 24-hour day.
Chambers provided documentary evidence of massive absenteeism and fare-box theft. In 10 months, some 155 employees racked up a total of 4,919 absent days. Using a 40-hour week, this is just over 13 years in man-hours. We paid for that. One caller to a radio show claimed that she signed for and collected her friend's 'salary' at the JUTC because that 'friend/'employee' actually lived and worked abroad. Chambers also discovered that customer-service assistants were stealing about $30 million a month from fare boxes.
But the new chairman had his hands full with an angry union. He had limited success in several of his efforts, as the union frequently threatened to 'strike and lock down the company' if he reversed some of these acts of thievery. Shortly after he took office, five senior officers were lucky to be sent home without action being taken against them. In a six-month period, 740 'workers' were sent home. He spoke about providing a transport system that was free from corruption and inefficiency.
Chambers was gunned down at the gate of the JUTC before he could complete a year's work. The first opportunity that presented itself, the voters of this country booted the Jamaica Labour Party government from power and restored the government that presided over what was just described at the company. Faithful comrades were again placed in charge and we have what we are witnessing today. The chaos that we witnessed recently when payment cards were to be sold is just one example of the logistical problems that exist at the company. But the declaration by Reverend Roper about the company's inability to compensate accident victims takes the cake. Are the buses insured, Sir? If so, isn't there a third-party clause that provides for compensation to innocent victims? I find it unthinkable that a bus company could have hundreds of buses piling up a record number of accidents each month with no provisions to protect the company. No public transportation company in the world could be this reckless.