A few days ago, I pondered the matter of Jamaican strategic decision-making abilities. Several actions by government agencies in recent days make me wonder more if there is a cultural aspect of how local bureaucrats operate that is moulded in a deep cast that has to have elements which many people find offensive, inconsiderate, foolish, backward, and a whole host of other negative terms. Two particular sets of decisions by the Jamaica Urban Transport Company (JUTC) have me puzzled.
First, JUTC has been running a ‘test’ of bus-lanes on a heavily congested stretch of road leading into Kingston. Unlike many other bus-lane restrictions, that proposed will be for JUTC buses only. JUTC is a public corporation, which is loss-making. But, many other private buses operate and move large volumes of passengers. So, if the logic is that large ‘people movers’ get priority, then the natural question seems to be “Why give the privilege to JUTC only?” I don’t have a good answer to that question and suspect there isn’t one, other than JUTC, and the government by extension, want to discriminate against other public transport providers. As someone commented yesterday, such ‘tests’ are usually of what is meant to be implemented, so the expectation is that private bus operators will not be getting any privileged access. JUTC called the tests ‘a success’: their buses moved an additional 6,000 passengers during the three- hour test run on October 24. Judging by comments heard on various media, things were a nightmare for other road users. But, maybe they are not part of the consideration. Wheel and come again!
Second, JUTC has decided to end the practice of free transfers. The changes will affect 15 routes. JUTC says it loses between J$500,000 to J$1million per day. The scheme was introduced to encourage use of JUTC buses. I have no idea what studies were done before introducing it, but, logically, it had to be a loss-maker. The size of the losses indicate that free transfers have succeeded, so why penalize passengers by making them pay for what they were ‘enticed to do’ by making it free? That shouldn’t be the reason to stop it. Had JUTC begun by offering the free transfers on a short-term experimental basis, the scheme might have failed. But, that wasn’t the deal. Should I suggest that this idea was not well thought out? As economists would say, JUTC should have anticipated the losses and if they were a problem, then had offsetting measures ready to ensure that the overall deficit didn’t worsen. News reports indicated ‘The bus company says it regrets any inconvenience that this change may cause to its customers.’ I find that hard to believe, or is some knee-jerk corporate PR. They can’t regret something that they introduce and is meant to have a particular negative impact.
JUTC is not being fair to those who fund them and those who depend on them. Accountable for being badly run? Accountable for badly affecting the rest of the transportation structure? I wonder…