Sun | May 28, 2017

JUTC faces uphill fight to curb theft, recklessness

Published:Monday | November 3, 2014 | 11:00 AM

Below are excerpts of an address by Garnett Roper, chairman of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company, to employees at a staff meeting on Sunday, November 2.

It is beyond contestation that the JUTC represents enormous and significant capital resources at the expense of the fiscal budget. Some would even argue that a disproportionate amount of resources has been expended on the people who live at the eastern end of the island, including children and senior citizens, in a manner that is not paralleled anywhere else in Jamaica.
Two bits of statistical information give an idea of the scope and size of the JUTC: The JUTC transports, on average, 250,000 commuters per day, which is between five and 10 per cent of Jamaica’s population. JUTC buses consume eight per cent of the total fuel consumed annually in Jamaica. There are 600 buses in the fleet of the JUTC and it has some 2,000 employees. I identify four areas in which the JUTC has the potential to be a leader in making profound social and cultural changes to the enormous benefit of the Jamaican economy and society:

The first is time-keeping and punctuality. Between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m.  each morning, some 500 JUTC employees report to work at each of the three depots from which buses are dispatched, Rockfort, Spanish Town and Portmore. In addition to this, 450 buses are dispatched between 4 a.m. and 7.45 a.m. each week day morning.  The timeliness and frequency of the dispatch of buses are critical to the capacity of businesses, government offices and educational facilities to open on time and have productive days for the smooth operation of the city.

The company is putting itself in a position to know where every bus is at any given moment and what speed it is travelling and whether or not it is on schedule. Just as the operation of the company is time governed, so it is seeking to provide a platform for the city to operate on time and within time.

Second, the JUTC also has the opportunity to begin to dismantle the culture in which cash is king.  Cash offers a false sense of power, but is actually disadvantageous to handle all transactions in cash.

Cash is very expensive for the JUTC. It is expensive to collect, to courier, to count, to bank and, of course, it is easy to steal.  We have begun by making the use of Smarter Cards (the JUTC cashless system) the only means by which concessionary fares can be accessed, by schoolchildren, the elderly and the disabled. We have offered bonus credit to allure adult passengers away from cash into the cashless system. However, we have only succeeded in getting 30% of adult riders to use the SmarterCard, though they all have one.

Recently, some JUTC employees have tried to beat the SmarterCard system and in so doing paid an unwitting compliment to the system itself. Those who tried to beat the system fall into two categories of violations: there were those who tried to defraud the company. There were also those who were using their own cards or cards belonging to others in order prevent themselves from needing to go to the cash office at the end of their shifts. Both categories of infractions unwittingly betrayed the strengths of the cashless system.

In the first place, the infractions were easily detected because all transactions are electronically recorded and the data are stored and easily retrieved and audited. Therefore, those who have tried to defraud the company have been confronted with the records of their transaction and the chips will fall where they may. In their case, the exception reports quickly called attention to the anomalous use of the cards.

In the case of the second group, the compliment is that some drivers recognise that if all commuters use the SmarterCard, the system uploads their report and the end of their shift, they would not need to visit the cash office and sit through the tedious system of reconciliation.

If the company achieves 100% Smart card use, once a bus enters the depot, the Wi-Fi system automatically uploads the transaction on that shift and all the driver needs to do is safely park the bus and go home.

Cashlessness benefit drivers, commuter and the JUTC. If there is no cash, there is no robbery, or robbery is a minor inconvenience; what is stolen is easily retrieved. If there is no cash, there is no conflict between commuter and operators for not having the right change, and so on.  It is the way to go.

Third, the battle to get a more honest worker, more honest commuter and a more honest Jamaica will not be won as easily as getting persons to convert from cash to plastic.  It deserves a try. The JUTC has been the feeding tree for the dishonest for too long in its short history. We have had to put in systems to protect the revenue and property of the JUTC.

There has been the stealing of fuel, batteries, tyres, spare parts and, of course, the cash resources of the company.  We are seeking to devise efficient systems of detection and the application of sanctions.  We are not willing to create a space or a haven for dishonest people.

We believe that to build a culture of honesty requires a national conversation. For example, Jamaican workers, including those at the JUTC, are in general yet to see themselves as stakeholders. In much respect, I am of the view that the social contract between leader and people has broken down. There is no real sense of we the people and a country belonging to all of us. This is, therefore, the matter arising for those in leadership at the JUTC. 

Finally, the JUTC has a unique opportunity to build a culture of safety on our roads.  This is an enormous challenge. Earlier this year, we sought to rationalise the private operators and reduce the run-jostle and lick-shot mentality on our roads.  We believe we have made some progress in that direction and we believe the colour-coding helped.

We believe that we are on our way to remove the normalisation of disorder that was so much a feature of life in the city. We have to acknowledging that in a perverse way, JUTC drivers have begun to try to re-entrench disorder and chaos.  We sometimes wonder if it is a form of petit marronage, to seek to bring down the bus company from within. For what reason would workers in the company tamper with the tachometer on buses that are governed to go at a speed of no greater than 65kph in the city, and allow them to travel at a speed of 120kph, except to turn the buses into murder weapons?

In the month that has just ended, we have a record number of accidents. We can only pledge the determination of the board and the management to stamp out indiscipline. We also solicit the assistance of the public to tell the company what they see on the roads. Drivers who are not dismissed for wilful infractions will be subject to retraining. We are also seeking to expand the inspectorate. 

We, however, believe that it is not beyond us at JUTC to build a culture of safety and that the drivers of JUTC buses can become the standard-bearers by which all motorists are judged.

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