Mon | Sep 25, 2017

Boos and bouquets for JUTC service

Published:Saturday | October 8, 2016 | 10:00 AM
Scores of persons gather in an effort to board a No. 18 bus at South Parade in Kingston on March 16, 2016. There is often a dog-eats-dog rush to board the No. 17 and 18 buses at the Half-Way Tree Transport Centre, writes Andrea Lawrence.

ANDREA LAWRENCE

St Catherine

This is an open letter to Mike Henry, minister of transport, and the executive management of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company.

What is excellent customer service, I ask myself? I will state what it is to me, with this experience: Approximately two months ago, at 6:25 a.m., I was on the 17AX JUTC bus that plies the Greater Portmore to Cross Roads, via Marescaux Road route. The articulated bus (long bus) broke down in the vicinity of the Bridgeport High School. The driver stopped a very packed 1A (bus coming from Hellshire) to transfer the passengers and told us that he had asked the other driver to take passengers to Cross Roads!

Customer service, for me, would see the driver making contact with the powers that be to have a replacement bus dispatched as it was during peak hours.

I called JUTC's toll-free number and spoke to a woman. I explained the situation and asked if she could arrange for a replacement bus to transport the remaining passengers. She said she would call me back. (Of course, I wasn't very optimistic that she would). Notwithstanding my pessimism, the lady called me back and reported that a substitute bus was on its way! At that point, I requested her name, in the event that the bus did not come. Still being doubtful, I contacted her again to ascertain the bus' location and was duly informed. I should point out that step by step, I had been keeping the remaining passengers updated and they took the decision to wait.

Within 10 minutes of being advised of the location of the bus, it arrived and transported us to our various destinations. Ms Yanique Piper, I have to publicly thank you for raising the customer service bar at JUTC - service par excellence! You did JUTC proud! Ms Piper had called me back via a mobile number and, as such, I was able to keep in constant contact with her. With that experience, how shocked I was with this one:

On September 30, I was at the Half-Way Tree Transport Centre from 2:30 p.m. More than an hour later and unable to get on a No. 17/18 - only one had arrived up to the point of being there - I became frustrated as there were thousands of schoolers on location. As I was with a sleepy six-year-old, it would have been very challenging to enter a bus based on the pushing, stampeding, and shoving that I had witnessed when the previous No. 17 had arrived. He would have suffocated.

 

SEEKING HELP

 

I took the decision to go to a dispatcher (those in burgundy JUTC shirts) to ask if he could facilitate me boarding a bus before it went to the area for embarkment.

Assuming that because this male dispatcher saw me with a six-year-old, excellent customer service with a human touch would prevail, how shocked was I when he said, in full view of other JUTC workers and some schoolers: "Seeing that 13 persons had asked me before you, I couldn't make an exception for you." I stood there in disbelief.

So in an embarrassed tone, I replied, "Even for the sake of this baby? He is only six years old." At that point, he offhandedly replied, "I will ask the driver if it is okay and see." I shook my head, said thank you, but eventually moved away, more so because he was nowhere in sight.

I am sure JUTC dispatchers/workers receive customer-service training. I, therefore, urge members of the public who have had similar experiences to let your voices be heard and complain to JUTC management. Management must make their work phone numbers public to facilitate these calls. We should not accept these types of nonchalant, offhand, and uncaring responses.

I have often heard people remark at the Cross Roads bus stop, "No, mi chile. No line nuh form out here suh. A only the Spanish Town bus stop over there suh. Dem always form a line." Lines are repeatedly formed at the Spanish Town bus stop in Cross Roads. That should be reciprocated throughout all JUTC bus terminals.

A customer-service representative told me that a dispatcher once tried to insist that a line be formed at the No. 17/18 bus stop in the Half-Way Tree Transport Centre and was ignored. My solution is to have dispatchers escorted by a police officer to do this task. As such, I offer these humble recommendations as I believe that constructive criticism should walk hand in hand with solutions:

1) Dispatchers should have their names and an identity number imprinted on their shirts or wear a name tag to easily identify them in the event of a complaint.

2) Dispatchers' role should be more than just dispatching a bus or changing its route. It should be extended to include looking out for the elderly, the disabled, and adults with babies and small children up to, say, age eight years of age.

3) The elderly, the disabled, adults with babies/small kids, should and must be allowed to board the buses prior to other passengers.

4) It must become mandatory for lines to be formed - or the bus doors - not be opened.

5) Drivers should ensure that the elderly and disabled are offered one of the four front seats in a packed bus. The disabled sign is very visible.

I can only pray that steps will be taken to retrain some of the dispatchers based on my experience. CARE - in my own thought process - means 'Cordial Assistance Requires Empathy'. Dispatchers and drivers must put themselves (empathy) in the place of the vulnerable and show that they care.

We cannot afford to wait for an elderly person, the disabled, or a child to be crushed - God forbid - or suffocate in their attempt to board a JUTC bus before the JUTC reacts. I welcome a proactive, rather than a reactive, approach to these kinds of situations.