Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner
Youngsters can enjoy an undisturbed 90-minute football game on the paved section of the transport centre designated for route taxis without a single commuter or vehicle showing up to use the facility.
The centre, built by the Urban Development Corporation, was initially slated to cost $160 million, but the cost quickly climbed to $400 million because of design errors and other issues.
More than 18 months after the $400-million downtown transport centre opened its gates, operators of public passenger vehicles and commuters are still shunning it.
Politics is being blamed for the inactivity of the centre as the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) struggles to make its shuttle service to the centre viable, as there are still too-few passengers using the facility which was officially opened in January 2011.
"I am going to be blunt. It is because of politics why a proper centre was not built," declared member of parliament for the area, Desmond McKenzie, a former mayor of Kingston.
Explaining the absence of shuttles, the frank-talking Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin, the managing director of the JUTC, said: "If no buses are coming to the park, then the JUTC would have nothing to shuttle."
In fact, youngsters can enjoy an undisturbed 90-minute football game on the paved section of the centre designated for route taxis without a single commuter or vehicle showing up to use the facility.
The centre, built by the Urban Development Corporation (UDC), was initially slated to cost $160 million, but the cost quickly climbed to $400 million because of design errors and other issues.
Value for money
Still, the Government of the day argued then that it was value for money as it would go a far way in restoring order to the public transportation system in downtown Kingston.
When it formally opened, dozens of public passenger vehicle operators were shifted to the now-idle transport centre, which is located between Port Royal Street and Water Lane.
But neither operators nor their passengers seemed particularly thrilled, and the few who used the centre would do so only because they were forced by the police and officials of the Transport Authority.
But that aggressive drive to get the operators into the centre has now fizzled, creating way for a free-for-all on the streets of downtown Kingston.
Last week, a Sunday Gleaner team spent time at the centre during peak hours.
On Wednesday, the team visited between 4:15 p.m. and 6:25 p.m.; the number of vehicles and passengers using the facility never passed a trickle.
At 4:15 p.m., there was only one Coaster bus plying an out-of-town route. It was joined at 4:25 p.m. by two other buses.
Ten minutes later, a JUTC bus entered the facility and picked up passengers: eight adults and two children.
When that bus left three minutes later, two passengers remained: a woman and a teenage boy. At 4:37 p.m., a young woman entered the facility, followed by two others about two minutes later. At 4:39, another empty Coaster bus entered but did not tarry.
Between 4:43 p.m. and 5:25 p.m., five buses entered; almost all were half-empty. For the next hour, only two commuters entered the multimillion-dollar centre.
There was no JUTC shuttle bus, introduced initially to take passengers between Parade and the centre.
"The only thing we have to do with it is to operate the shuttle and it's a loser," said Rear Admiral Lewin when contacted.
"We don't charge for it. The Transport Authority should be better able to answer your questions about usage, the overall intent, and what is to be done."
The inactivity at the centre is no surprise to McKenzie, who is adamant that because of politics something inadequate was built.
"What is there is not what was agreed on. It should have been a larger facility, incorporating a commercial centre, with restaurants and proper bathrooms," McKenzie told The Sunday Gleaner.
He said the transport centre should have been a much larger facility which would generate enough income to pay for its upkeep.
According to McKenzie, the UDC, which owns the facility, did not do what it should have done.
"The centre is not making enough money to pay for upkeep because no one is using it," said the former chairman of the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC).
He charged that there are some structural problems with the facility, including the bathroom area, which was only meant to be temporary.
McKenzie said that a part of the agreement, which the KSAC expected when it had discussion about the facility, was for the opening of Darling Street to allow route taxis to enter Water Lane. That has not materialised.
But the Western Kingston MP does not believe the centre needs to be closed. "I do not believe there should be any thought of closing it. I suggest that all the franchise buses, including the Portmore buses, should be parked in that location. That would make the Pechon Street area a much better location."
The KSAC has since given up its day-to-day management of the facility, arguing that it just could not continue to carry the millions of dollars in losses.
The news team was unsuccessful in its attempts to get a comment from the UDC, but The Gleaner recently reported its chairman, K.D. Knight, as saying there was private-sector interest in the facility.