Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter
Entrusted daily with the lives of thousands of commuters, several Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) drivers are routinely engaging in dangerous driving practices that are outlawed by the state-owned bus company.
These drivers, who also serve as conductors on the buses daily, mix the two roles to the possible detriment of passengers.
During a covert investigation The Sunday Gleaner's news team was able to capture video footage of drivers speeding down the roadways while simultaneously counting cash or making change; taking their eyes off the road many times in order to facilitate the exchange.
The drivers observed during the probe seem oblivious to the fact that the massive units, weighing anywhere between 19 and 24.5 tonnes, could become weapons of mass destruction if not handled carefully and according to the guidelines stipulated by the JUTC.
The bus company introduced the single-operator buses on a small scale 10 years ago and yet many drivers are still not adhering to the rules and regulations.
On most of these one-person operated buses, passengers are required to board the buses through the door at the front and make payments to the driver on entry.
"Passengers are supposed to collect a ticket before the bus moves off. No transaction is to be conducted while the driver is driving," said Colin Campbell, managing director at the JUTC.
But that's not what is happening on road.
Passengers, including women, children and the elderly, are placed at risk as drivers hit the gas pedal as soon as they enter the bus; sometimes before the ticket has been issued.
This often pushes the passenger violently down the aisle if they did not get a chance to hold on to the rail or quickly slip into an available seat near the entrance.
Section 4.1.2 of the JUTC Bus Operator Guide Book admonishes drivers to "put the bus in motion only when all clients are safe, that is to say, when those who are leaving are away from the doors and that those who are boarding can find a support or at least, are held in balance".
Footage captured by our news team in Portmore, St Catherine, last week show an elderly woman who had to use the ageing triceps muscle in her left arm to pin herself against a railing in the bus to prevent herself from falling headlong. Why? The driver, who was apparently in a hurry, stepped on the gas pedal even before the elderly woman made it on to the top step. In his apparent haste, the driver could also be heard hurrying passengers to board the bus.
Section 1.10 of the JUTC Bus Operator Guide Book clearly states that drivers should "respect the schedule" and not attempt to play catch-up. "Try your best to be on time, remember your passengers' working hours is timed by the clock. If you are late, they are late. Don't ever drive fast to catch Mr Time, he (is) already gone; and you can't catch him back," the section states.
Another driver was also captured with a wad of cash in one hand while simultaneously handing change to a passenger seated behind him; all of this as he steered the bus along Marcus Garvey Drive in Kingston.
Bus drivers plying the Half-Way Tree to downtown Kingston routes have also regularly driven off before collecting bus fares from individuals at some of the minor designated bus stops along the routes.
In one instance recently, a Number 47 bus driver was seen using the ulna and radius bones of both hands while he sorted paper money collected along Lyndhurst Road.
The driver had just provided change for a $500 bill presented by a passenger. Though specifically addressing the best method for making turns, the JUTC manual warned that "one-handed steering, 'palming' the wheel, etc. can easily lead to loss of control".
"If the buses are intercepted by the police and you don't have a ticket that is an offence under the law," said Campbell, when told that some passengers who board the buses refuse to hand over cash unless the bus comes to a stop, at a designated bus stop or at a traffic light.
According to Campbell, the onus will be on such a passenger to defend themselves for being on the bus without a ticket.
Under the heading, 'Driving Technique', the authors of the JUTC bus operator manual were at pains to ensure that drivers understand the gravity of being allowed to sit behind the wheel of a massive unit with such precious cargo on board.
"Driving a heavy vehicle is a complex task that requires solid know-how and a great deal of skill on the part of the professional bus operators. In their daily work, bus operators are often required to make split-second decisions based on a variety of driving scenarios.