Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter
Nearly four years after the Belgian government donated a multimillion-dollar bus-driving simulator to the Government of Jamaica, the very expensive piece of technology now lays in ruins and will not be repaired.
When the simulator arrived back in 2009, it was heralded as a watershed moment in the public transport sector that would improve the quality of local bus driving. But, not many JUTC drivers even got a chance to sit around the steering wheel of the simulator before it gave up the ghost. Only two batches of 25 JUTC drivers benefited from the Belgian gift.
Another 25 drivers from the private sector were also able to utilise the machine.
A recent visit to the Palisadoes Park-based Caribbean Maritime Institute where the simulator is housed revealed that the equipment is non-functional. Sections of the virtual-reality machine were pulled down and the housing is being used to store a few mattresses, a dirty suitcase and other debris. The room that once housed equipment is now being retrofitted as office space.
Fritz Pinnock, executive director of the Caribbean Maritime Institute, told The Sunday Gleaner that the equipment was giving trouble from the get-go. "The simulator came but there were some challenges. It was the first the company that actually made the simulator was putting one of these together. It was actually about three different companies that actually put the simulator together," said Pinnock.
He added: "It worked for a while and then it stopped. It had some bugs. It was uneconomical to operate and when we looked at the cost of repairing the simulator, if it would make sense, it is cheaper we replace it."
Pinnock said the institute is looking to purchase more flexible simulators that can be used for multiple purposes. "You have desktop and different types of simulators you can now use for multi use. You can switch the use for a bus, you can switch to forklift, so it more suits the driving environment. So that to us is a more practical approach," he said.
The CMI executive director said one of the multi-purpose simulators can be purchased on the market for between US$60,000 and US$150,000. He also argued that the €300,000 it would cost to repair the bus-driving simulator could purchase up to "two or three (new) simulators".
Pinnock also pointed out that the machine was fixed several times during the one-year warranty. "It is a proprietary system ... everything you want (for it) you have to go back to Europe and look at the price of the euro now. There are cheaper simulators on the market. We decided not to fix it anymore after the warranty expired," he explained.
Osric Forrest, director of the School of Advanced Skills, told our news team that the simulator stopped working completely in the summer of 2010. "We had limited use of it from day one," said Forrest.
"We really didn't get any benefit out of it," added Pinnock.
In addition, Pinnock pointed out that the CMI recognises the importance of such a simulator and the impact it can have on testing and recertification of drivers. Plans are in the pipeline, he revealed, to purchase eight simulators to add to the CMI's complement of simulators that are used in the shipping, fire-fighting and equipment-operations training offered by the institute. The project should cost in the region of US$750,000 and installation is expected to begin in March this year.
What will happen to the gift from the Belgians? "Well, we are looking for a museum ...," said Forrest while Pinnock added that the plan is to "set it up in an environment where people can go and look at it".