Garnett Roper | Campbell revved up JUTC
The recently appointed board of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) has acted on a decision not to renew the contract of Managing Director Colin Campbell and to this end Mr Campbell is being paid for the three-month notice period. Campbell demitted office on May 11. (His three-year contract was set to expire on August 11, 2016).
Allow me to pay tribute to Colin for his sterling contribution to the JUTC over the last three years. To begin with, the success of Colin Campbell is at least a counterpoint against some prejudices and firmly held views that are abroad in the Jamaican society. One of them is that as a former member of the political class, having been a PNP Cabinet minister, as well as former general secretary of the PNP, he ought to have nothing to contribute to the public sector in this country.
The second is that Jamaica lacks the managerial talent to achieve First-World standards in management of our affairs and that we are condemned to reliance on foreign consultants in order to make our way in the world.
The third is that the JUTC, as a publicly owned metropolitan transport system, is inevitably a black hole in the fiscal budget and is fundamentally flawed in terms of generating revenue at the fare box to sustain itself.
Colin Campbell's stewardship has put paid to the lie on each of these scores, and, in many respects, his contribution has been quite path-breaking in many of his achievements at the bus company. One of the outcomes is that the JUTC brand is one in which the commuting public is beginning to exercise some faith.
First of all, under Colin's watch, some truly spectacular revenue numbers have been achieved. With the lowering of oil prices, in some months beginning November 2014, JUTC generated a small surplus on operations in its management account. In December 2015, the JUTC achieved revenue numbers of upwards of J$500m in a single month. This was repeated, I believe, in April 2016.
In each of these two months of spectacular JUTC revenue performance, there was another brainchild of Mr Campbell's the Double Days.
The April numbers are particularly amazing. On a single day, the JUTC served 98,000 customers and took J$148M. This involved the use of JUTC facilities and 80 other locations throughout the KMTR in which private companies provided JUTC point-of-sale top-ups. This is a remarkable achievement for any public body.
It is also a tribute to the sense of teamwork that emerged at the JUTC under the watch of the politician-turned-managing director. Managers at all levels rose from as early as 4 a.m. and manned point-of-sales locations throughout the day. What the public sees as a 100 per cent bonus is the performance of a company run like a well-oiled machine. The management and staff, including the trade unions, worked together in the public interest. That team spirit is the work of Colin Campbell.
Long way to go
To be sure, there is still a way to go before the JUTC can break even. However, we know that JUTC offers subsidies to students, seniors and the disabled in the amount of J$2.5 billion per annum. This subsidy, for its vulnerable populations, is the least that Jamaica can do.
If, however, that sum were added to the books of the JUTC, the company would, by that alone, have generated a small surplus in the light of its overall revenue performance.
The second thing for which I pay tribute to the former managing director is colour-coding of units operated by private operators. The JUTC began this by colour-coding, as a condition of their licence, all JUTC subfranchise operators. This has had an enormous impact on public order in the transportation system.
It was not initially sustained, but now that the Transport Authority has come on board by requiring route taxis and buses in the KMTR to be colour-coded, we are well on the way as a
city towards some order and discipline on the roadways. This can only benefit the KMTR, the commuting public and other road users. However, it must be lost on none of us that it was Colin Campbell who had the courage and the initiative to first implement it.
Third, leveraging the technology was a modus operandi for Colin. This has been an important strategy that has been used to substantially reduce leakage at the fare box. The drive towards a completely cashless metropolitan transport system should not be halted by the new JUTC leadership. The previous board, to which I also pay tribute, authorised the management of the JUTC to proceed apace in this direction.
A cashless JUTC would reduce expenditure on handling cash, securing/transporting and paying bank charges by J$400m per annum. It would reduce conflicts between operators and commuters, and it is more efficient in loading buses. Beyond the gains made with the cashless system so far, there have been gains made in the development and use of Google Maps, which facilitates tracking JUTC buses by smartphone.
This was developed by a UWI student and resulted from a partnership between JUTC and UWI, Mona. Wi-Fi access has now been made available on some JUTC routes with a full rollout anticipated for the near term.
There are other initiatives, such as the Kingston city tour, to name one, but Colin Campbell has been a game-changer. I look forward to the day, and I did everything in my power while I had the opportunity to do so, when we will create a genuine meritocracy in Jamaica so that people can serve their country as their gifts, irrespective of their politics.