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The Rear Admiral's riddle - How to move from cash to cashless while making a cashless system accept cash?

Published:Sunday | February 3, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin

Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter

The much-touted new Jamaica Urban Transit Company's (JUTC) smarter-card project is late in leaving its planning and testing depot for a promised full system-wide roll-out.

Introduced in 2002 at a cost of US$4 million, the current smart card was expected to minimise cash transactions on buses, speed up the entry of passengers on to buses, improve accountability and revenue collection and guard against theft. The new smarter-card system, which reportedly cost US$3 million, is expected to do better than its predecessor.

About 13 years ago, an announcement was made that the cards would have come into use by August of that year - 2000. In November that same year, it was announced that the JUTC had formed a new division to manage the card system and a pilot project had started. The full roll-out did not come until 2002.

Announced in 2010

In December 2010, the JUTC announced that the smarter-card bus fare-collection system would be introduced on a phased basis, and should be fully rolled out by the end of the summer holidays the following year. That did not happen.

A year later, the JUTC announced that it has embarked on a pilot programme aimed at improving its fare-collection system. The bus company said the new tickets represented the first aspect of the gradual introduction of its new electronic fare-collection system.

New system is being tested

Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin, managing director of the JUTC, told The Sunday Gleaner that the new system is being tested on its premium routes. The JUTC boss explained that the delay was due in part to minor modifications that had to be made to the cashless system for it to allow for the use of cash.

"It came cashless, only could use cards," said Lewin. The former head of the military also revealed that the company is going through the tender process to get a provider of the top-up services. "We want to have more than 1,000 locations where people can top-up," he said. However, he revealed that there were also some delays in the tender process because the company could not find a price it deemed viable for the provision of the top-up services. "When the new board came in March 2012, we did some hard-nosed negotiations (and) it is now back with the NCC (National Contracts Commission)," said Lewin.

The JUTC boss could not provide a new date for the full roll-out of the smarter-card system. Although it has been more than two years since the announcement, Lewin does not think the wait for the new system is too long and he believes it is necessary. "There are peculiarities here in Jamaica. We can't jump from a system that is 70 per cent cash to cashless, it would be chaos. Given the amount of work to be done on the system, I don't think it is excessive," he said.