Pick a card, any card…

My mind’s been in one place most of the day, and despite a few diversions, it’s still there. I joke to myself that JUTC has become a thorn in our sides and was trying to work a play on words between jook and JUTC; it has not worked, yet.

Anyway, here’s part of my problem. I’ve watched the merry dance begun last week, when JUTC announced higher fares, that was met with protests, and then a backing down in part as far as pensioners were concerned. In the mix, JUTC was trying to roll out its move to cashless fares, with its so-called ‘SMARTER’ card. Clearly, they were dealing with Jamaicans–the masters of “soon come”, and “we nearly reach”, both of which tell you that the person is nowhere near where he or she needs to be. We love to be late–fashionably or otherwise–and doing things at the last moment is one of our great defining features. It makes you wonder how our sprinters figure out that they need to get over the line first. But, that’s an existential discussion for another day.

Well, being Jamaicans, the fact that a deadline was looming along with the introduction of the new fares meant absolutely nothing. Ah so wi dweet, mi general. (I was in a tournament at the weekend, and the golf course director had lamented to me the week before the near impossibility of arranging such events in Jamaica because hardly anyone registers and pays by the deadline, and on the day, most players will show up and expect to register, pay, and play, and if there is lunch or other refreshments, expect to be royally feted. How do they think the planning can go ahead if just before teeing off the numbers are not set? Yet, this poor man–from England–was caught in the trap and one hour after the stipulated start time was looking to meet the newly arranged start time, while one of the organising players was yelling “Wi go start soon, mi a go warm up…”  as he was running to the practice range.)

Lo and behold, the new fares came into force and JUTC was still holding onto the cards for the major groups of those who are due to have concessionary fares–school students and senior citizens. Over the weekend, a good number of elderly folks flocked to try to get their cards, and were met with long lines and lots of delays. They were incensed and tired and feeling let down after all the hype to get them to get these new-fangled cards. Faced with their obvious inability to meet the late demand for cards that should have been anticipated, JUTC asked the card seekers to be patient and then decided to give a week’s amnesty before the cards would be mandatory. The rush caused delays. The delays caused anger and frustration. The anger and frustration led to a backing down on a decision.

JUTC Smarter cards in demand and the ticket office is swamped. Duh!
JUTC Smarter cards in demand and the ticket office is swamped. Duh!

For the life of me, I could not understand how JUTC could be surprised by what was happening. This had turned into a bigger comedy show than Ity and Fancy Cat. The ‘chaos’ of masses of people trying to get SMARTER cards at the last minute was simple arithmetic at work. You have say 500,000 people who are due concessions. You give them 100 days to claim. Say that is 5000 people/day. With two days left, only 100,000 have claimed the concessions. Therefore, 400,000 are likely to rush to meet the deadline, making that an average of 200,000/day over the next two days. So, you gear up for a rush. Or–as was done through pressure–you extend the timetable.

But, here is the other aspect. Jamaicans know that ‘deadlines’ mean little, and they act according. I say often that people in this island act perfectly rationally. They work with the incentives they are given. Voila!

What is odd is that other Jamaicans qua managerial staff run around with their two legs in one hole of a pair of trousers, trying to stay upright. 

Now, JUTC could have done many things. Regarding school students, JUTC visited (225) schools to help in the process, but for reasons that baffle a simpleton like me, did not leave the cards with the schools and let them deal with the ‘mess’ of students who should claim the cards. Why not leave the administration to somebody who can handle it simply, and a place where students must attend. The cards could be handed out as students registered for the first day of school–meaning that the new fares and system would have had to wait till the day after. But, so what? Is that too simple? Are the schools not trustworthy? Students without cards after the first day of school would pay full fare (or don’t take bus). Instead? We have the recreation of the wheel, but without spokes and no centre and the rim keeps running away and the cart and horse are left holding each other up.

JUTC’s ‘management’ is made up of two stalwarts of the ruling party, and though I know neither of them, that alone would make my skin crawl. Neither seems to have real expertise in running major transport companies. The managing director was a former politician and state minister in the ministry of transport. When he was appointed last August his past involvement in a financial scandal, known as the Trafigura Affair raised the hackles of the parliamentary opposition. Quite naturally. This smacked of cronyism or if not outright cronyism, then downright cronyism. But, the chairman ‘assured’ the public that the selection had been through an ‘objective process’ and there were ‘mechanisms’ for removal if he ‘does not perform’
under his three year contract. I guess continuing losses and hashing up the implementation of new schemes does not count as not performing in the stellar atmosphere that is Jamaican bureaucracy. Where many an MD would have been given a one-way ticket, the current MD is there, smiling and ‘defending’ decisions against bungling with the gusto of hyena on helium.

So, dear people of Jamaica, you have the example of how not to pull your lovely country out of the mire of failed macroeconomic policies and into the clear light of economic advancement. How the minister could utter ‘world class’ and bus service in the same sentence is beyond me.