Vandalised to debt - Rowdy students the main culprits smashing windows, defacing buses, costing JUTC millions
The ailing Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) is shelling out millions of dollars each year to repair buses damaged by passengers, mainly schoolchildren, who deliberately break the windows and windshields, as well as deface the seats and other sections of the interior of the vehicles with oftentimes lewd and vulgar graffiti.
For this year, the JUTC is projecting an operating loss of $7.3 billion, but that could increase significantly if the trend continues where buses have to be pulled from service for repairs after they have been vandalised.
"A review for the 12-month period - January 1 to December 31, 2016 - indicates that there was a total of 74 cases of stone throwing related to the buses," recently appointed corporate communications manager at the JUTC, Cecil Thoms, told The Gleaner.
"Since the start of this year to April 7, there have been 28 cases of stone throwing. If this trend continues, it will surpass last year's figure."
He noted that the smashing of the bus windows is not just a student issue, but it significantly involves students.
"Stone throwing is not only a threat to JUTC operations but to everyone who is a passenger on the bus," added Thoms, as he noted that catching the perpetrators is not an easy task because they usually flee after they commit the act.
JUVENILES BEFORE THE COURT
Five juveniles are now before the courts on charges related to the damage of JUTC vehicles. All are from Bull Bay in St Andrew, one of the routes the state transportation agency cited as being among the most problematic.
JUTC buses which travel around Greater Portmore, Christian Pen, Angels Estates, McCook's Pen and Central Village in Catherine are also frequently targeted.
August Town and sections of Washington Boulevard in St Andrew are also problem areas for the company.
"Stone throwing results in significant revenue loss, but also directly impacts commuters due to downtime," said Thoms.
"If a windscreen is broken, the cost to replace it, inclusive of labour inputs, runs over $850,000. Of course, the cost for individually damaged units is relative to the level of damage."
In many cases, the parts needed to replace the damaged ones are not available on the island and have to be ordered from overseas. This puts additional strain on the state-run bus company.
"In seeking to address the problem, the JUTC is focused on a number of strategies, including public sensitisation, engaging community stakeholders and targeting specific schools in areas affected to encourage youths to desist from the practice," said Thoms.
Last year, the public transportation company spent $1.4 billion to repair and maintain its fleet. That is expected to increase to just over $2 billion this year based on its estimates of revenue and expenditure tabled in Parliament at the start of the financial year.