Growth & Jobs | JUTA operators remain hopeful amid pandemic
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries across the globe have suffered very significant losses that have severely affected the economy and life as we know it. Many sectors are now on the brink of a financial crisis as consumers continue to remain indoors, adhering to the COVID-19 social-distancing protocols. One sector that is a primary victim of the pandemic is public transportation.
Due to lockdown in many countries, the demand for passenger transport has been adversely affected. However, The Jamaica Union of Travellers Association (JUTA), with about 70 per cent market share, continues to remain hopeful despite the odds.
In early April, Jamaica closed its borders for two weeks and implemented all-island curfews in hopes of reducing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. During this time, JUTA’s operations fell to approximately 25 per cent, which was a brutal blow to its members. “This severely impacted our staff complement at all of our branches islandwide,” said Patrick Warren, JUTA secretary and director, who also noted that the staff complement at the Kingston location was cut in half.
With tourism down by 95 per cent, JUTA branches that catered specifically to tourists were at an all-time operational low. “Unlike our partners in Montego Bay who were severely hit, our Kingston branch was still able to service customers.. the most recent being the national election,” continued Warren.
Though receiving their COVID-19 Resilient Certificate, the organisation’s more than 12,000 drivers continue to feel the brunt of the virus’ effects. “Before COVID-19, we had a steady stream of bookings. Now, bookings are very inconsistent and completely unpredictable,” explained JUTA driver Michael McKenzie, who also admitted that there is a persistent, looming fear of contracting the virus while on the job transporting multiple passengers. “Once you are out in the open there is a risk. I am very strict when it comes to sanitising and observing the protocols, but you can never be too safe,” he continued.
For Adrian ‘Don’ McKenzie, a member of the JUTA Falmouth chapter for 18 years, the existing situation could not have been worse. “This thing [COVID-19] has a big effect on me. Right now, all of the three buses are parked, I owe the bank for two of them, so I have loans. Right now, I have no options because all I know is how to transport tourists, so right now I am hoping and praying that things will soon come back to normal, and hope that the Government can help us through this turbulent time,” he explained.
President of the Jamaica Union of Travellers Falmouth chapter, Dawn Henry, has described the fallout in the ground transportation subsector, due to COVID-19, as “the most devastating thing” the sector has ever faced. She noted that a few weeks before the first case of the coronavirus was confirmed on the island, her members, which number over 100, were negatively impacted by poor weather conditions, which prevented several cruise ships with thousands of passengers to dock at the Falmouth cruise ship pier. Henry, who has been leading the chapter since 2014, stressed that many of her members are facing financial difficulties.
“A lot of our members have bank loans, a lot owe insurance companies, persons are yet to process their applications for road licences and TPDCo (Tourism Product Development Company) licences. With this level of uncertainty, it’s tough,” she explained.