Sun | Jun 16, 2019

Letter of the Day | JUTC deathtrap

Published:Saturday | February 9, 2019 | 1:14 AM

THE EDITOR, Sir:

Fire! Supplications for divine intervention, high-pitched screams and loud expletives filled the overcrowded JUTC route number 52 bus, as acrid smoke gushed through the rear vents of the vehicle as it careened down Long Lane, just below Red Gal Ring, Stony Hill, on the morning of Thursday, February 7, 2019.

The panic that ensued was made worse by the failure of all the emergency exits, leaving the front door as the only escape route. The 90-odd passengers crammed into an approximate 40-seat bus, in an attempt to escape death by fire or asphyxiation, rushed the only route to safety, leaping over those confined to the seats, diving through the few windows wide enough for even a painful exit and cascading over those not agile enough to keep up with the mad rush.

It was chaotic, frightening and almost unbelievable. Personally, for the first time in my relatively long life, I tasted the bile of fear and anguish at the back of my throat. I, too, felt that the end was near.

I was seated directly behind the driver and the press of the panicked passengers confined me to that vantage point as the overwhelmed driver fought to control the bus while trying to fend off the terrified bodies trying for the door to his immediate left.

‘More smoke than fire’

When the vehicle eventually came to a halt and we scrambled to the roadside, the driver, Horace Bolton, explained that the incident was more smoke than fire, but that in addition to the possibility of the vehicle exploding into flames, there was also the real danger of the vehicle crashing out of control as he tried to fend off and calm the panicked passengers.

Although badly shaken, some of us sought answers to the cause of the problem, the inability to activate the emergency exits and the general roadworthiness of publicly owned transportation.

JUTC bus, GT0023, licensed number PG9453, was a deathtrap.

At the time of the incident, it was carrying nearly 100 passengers, even though, according to the driver, the seating capacity is 43, with “additional space for standing passengers.”

When contacted, general manager of the Rockfort Depot, Neville Francis, indicated that he was aware of the incident and had ordered a report from the maintenance manager. He further admitted that although there were challenges, there were minimum standards that ought to be observed, which include regular maintenance and inspection before units are deemed roadworthy and that defective vehicles “should not leave the depot”.

While not offering explanation for the disabled emergency exits (which were screwed shut and in the case of the rear exit, appeared to have been sealed/welded following what appeared to be structural repairs), he claimed that my observation was correct and that the “matter would be investigated and addressed urgently”.

While the JUTC appears to be struggling with resource constraints, the conscientiousness of its workers, as exemplified by driver Horace Bolton, is commendable. He kept his nerves during the pandemonium, brought the vehicle safely to a halt along the busy thoroughfare, calmed the terrified passengers and was almost apologetic for the inconvenience caused.

ALLAN BROOKS

Valley View, Golden Spring