JUTC can't pay for crashes
Tyrone Thompson, Staff Reporter
Scores of Jamaicans awaiting payment from the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) for property damaged by its buses will have to wait much longer than expected for payment.
Information obtained through the Access to Information Act revealed that the company had budgeted just over $18.5 million to pay for property damaged by its buses for the period of January 2012 to December 2013 and it received claims for $12.3 million. Of the amount claimed, the company has so far paid out only $3.8 million, leaving hundreds of persons waiting to be paid.
According to the chairman of the JUTC, the Reverend Garnett Roper, the company just does not have the money to pay these claims as meeting its monthly expenses is already a struggle.
Data received through the Access to Information Act also showed that the bus company recorded more than 300 accidents between January 2012 and December 2013.
Roper argued that the inability to pay claims was one of the reasons the state-run bus company sought the recent fare increase.
Amid much public outcry, the Government this month increased bus fares from $100 to $120 for adults; $20 to $30 for students and the disabled; and $20 to $40 for the elderly.
"I made reference to this at the time of the fare increase, that the total cash deficit per month at the company is approximately $156 million. Even when we revise it down by taking out the non-cash expenditure, we are still in the red for $68 million per month," said Roper.
"That is what it is and that's why we made the case for the fare the customer pays to actually be closer to the cost of the commute."
Roper said the JUTC was involved in a number of driver-retraining exercises in an effort to reduce the number of accidents in which its buses are involved, but noted that a number of factors contributed to accidents.
"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 bearing [in mind] all those factors, you could have as many as four to six accidents per day or 180 accidents per month, but we have managed to dramatically reduce those numbers," argued Roper.
The JUTC chairman said he was hopeful that the increased revenue from the fare hike and capital injection from the Government, will reduce the time persons wait to have their claims settled.
"The best-case scenario is somewhere around three months for payments, but this is something that we have been reducing, so the hope is that with an increase in cash flow through revenue, we can see a greater reduction in this time frame.
"We have also gone to the Government with regard to some sort of cash injection to deal with some of these legacy debts, because even with the best business in the world, it's not easy to find $81 million to pay out in a given month or even in a three-month period."
In April, three JUTC buses were seized by bailiffs after the company failed to pay over $48.7 million awarded by the courts to four passengers injured in an accident involving one of its buses.
At that time, attorney-at-law Sean Kinghorn warned that he was willing to initiate court proceedings to have the bus company wound up if payments were not received urgently for the victims of a 2010 bus crash.
Efforts to contact Kinghorn since the start of this week have been unsuccessful and it is not clear if his clients have been paid in full.