JUTC not smart on Smarter Card
Kedon Clarke, Guest Columnist
In September 2012, Transport Minister Omar Davies announced that the State-run Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) has decided to go completely cashless with the hope of reducing, and eventually eliminating, the misappropriation of state funds. Fast-track to almost two years later, the Smarter Card cashless system to properly emerge beyond the thoughts of those who conceived it in the first place.
As a matter of fact, it would appear as if this issue was dead to the public up to a few weeks ago when the deputy managing director of operations, Kirk Finnikin, decided to remind us how much those in charge lacked decisiveness. According to the Gleaner article, 'Passengers without JUTC Smarter Cards to pay more for bus fare' (July 17, 2014), Finnikin revealed that no commuter - including the disabled, the elderly and children - will be exempted, as the bus company aims to phase out cash for travel.
Then he later went on to say in the same article: "We are not going to turn back any passenger from our doorstep, but we are seriously lobbying to ensure that there is one flat cash fare to be paid by a concessionary passenger." This is just another sign of how those put in charge are afraid to make tough decisions and stand behind them. There is absolutely no need to implement the Smarter Card system in phases. What that does is waste resources and encourage complacency among passengers, staff and company executives. If done properly, going cashless can be a major breakthrough in public-sector reformation.
There are three main areas I believe the JUTC can maximise revenues from the cashless system:
1. Value proposition
2. Card distribution
What is the current value proposition to the consumers that would make them choose the service of the JUTC over that of the other means of transportation? Consumers make buying decision based on what they perceive as value for money. So how do you get them to not only want to start taking the bus that the State provides, but also pre-purchase rides? You offer incentives.
There are a number of incentives the JUTC could offer that would make one entertain the thought of taking the bus. Let us look at a few:
The cost to travel on state buses (using the Smarter Cards) is cheaper than the other means of public transportation available to commuters.
Discounts are used as incentives for making pre-purchases. Meaning, if someone purchases 10 rides, it is cheaper than purchasing one ride.
Reintroduce transfers. It's a fact that one bus will never cover the entire route a commuter has to travel. Hence, offering transfers will make the company seem more attractive than other public passenger vehicles.
Distribution of the Cards
The JUTC should consider the Smarter Cards as a product to distribute to the entire metropolitan market. That means they will have to take wholesale and retailing into consideration when setting up their distribution channels. Similar to phonecards, the Smarter Cards can be priced so wholesalers and retailers who buy in bulk have the opportunity to make a profit without negatively affecting the end price to commuters. Automatically, card sale should increase as a result of not only the purchases made by the end consumer, but also aggregate demand from proprietors who sell these cards.
As it currently stands, the JUTC is anything but reliable. The buses don't run on time, and in the absence of the Internet, commuters have no way of referring to a schedule. To address this, the company could:
1. Initially print copies of the schedule and place them at each location where the Smarter Cards are being sold.
2. Set a medium-term target to put up infrastructure at each bus stop that displays bus schedules. In the long term, vending machines could be placed at major bus stops that dispense Smarter Cards.
3. Hold drivers accountable when the schedules are not adhered to and when there are repeated complaints from commuters.
4. Improve bus routes. The JUTC should review the current routes and add buses to areas that are underserviced and remove from those that are overserviced. Case in point is the New Kingston to Papine route. I don't see how it is that with so many persons working and studying part-time, there is not even one bus that runs directly from the corporate capital of Jamaica to any of the major universities.
Kedon Clarke is a first-year MSc student at UWI, Mona. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.