This morning, I was headed toward Spanish Town. At about 7am, I was hailed by a man who recognised my car and wanted a ride to the place I was headed. I stopped and let him in. I asked him how long it took him to get from Spanish Town to where we met. He said he’d left home at about 5.30am. He explained that buses were hard to get because during the early morning rush hours toward Kingston, the buses are often full and getting a spot is hard. I could relate to that.
As I had been heading west, I had noticed–not for the first time–that the JUTC buses headed east into town were jammed pack. All I could see was buses with people standing, even pressed against the front windscreen. As I was about to stop for the passenger, I noticed a large JUTC bus and a smaller minibus in new JUTC colours stop to pick up some of the 30-40 people waiting at the junction of the Mandela Highway where I turned toward Caymanas Golf Course.
Once again, it’s useful to watch carefully what Jamaicans do. I’m a lucky citizen who does not need to use public transport in Jamaica to meet my basic needs. I had to do it in London and Washington DC, and I have never seen such travel conditions on a regular basis without people really taking a very vocal and physically unfriendly stance. Maybe, I have missed it, but when was the last time we heard about, read, or saw bus riders in open protest against bus operators? That is a completely open question.
I visualised one of these over-filled buses crashing and what the consequences would be. We know that JUTC has some hefty claims facing it from previous accidents.
We know that a spate of bus fires occurred last year. We know that people have made sport of throwing stones at JUTC buses, and just a few days ago firing shots. This is carnage waiting to happen. Is that the sign of a government that is really caring for its people. Words and deeds need to match.
It takes an amazing amount of tolerance to endure the kind of conditions I saw today and have seen often on Jamaican roads. I saw it in Conakry, Guinea, in west Africa.
That city was generally in total chaos during morning and afternoon rush hours, and even worse when the summer rains occurred. Bus riders in such situations are often crammed into small minibuses or taxis for maybe two or more hours every work day.
But, Guinea is one of the world’s poorest countries and they have been on the verge of bankruptcy for many years, and have suffered several coups during the past few years, and has real problems providing water and electricity to its population. Yes, there is a similarity, but that’s a convenient fact. Jamaica is a far better organized and functioning country, Yet, we have managed to screw a large part of what we deem to be our assets–workers and school children. Do we believe we are doing our best by our people?
Moving around rural areas and from those areas to and from Kingston remains another challenge. Makka juk everywhere fi true.
Jamaica has some very sharp-witted people. We also have an inordinate number of those termed ‘not the brightest button on the jacket’. Some of our thinking is heavily constrained by certain moral and religious positions that make sense to some but little or no sense to others. We also have a bunch of people who, rather than fess up and acknowledge that they have done something really silly, will sit there and bluster and bluster and wait for the house to be blown over. The saddest part of that is it’s so awfully obvious. Add to it a bit of pomposity and you’ve got yourself the makings of a great interchange. Anyway, let’s have at it.
I will single out JUTC (Jamaica Urban Transport Company) for a series of moves trying to make its segment of the public bus transport market a saner place. Most welcome were the quick measures to stop people throwing stones at buses. The series of attacks on JUTC buses is suspected to be by people thought to be opposed to the reformed sub-franchise bus system introduced by the JUTC on April 1, 2014. JUTC recorded 18 other incidents over two days which left damage estimated at J$2.5 million to a number of the company’s buses. The police have arrested a number of people in connection with the attacks. However, the Joint Coalition of Transport Operators has sought to distance itself from the series of attacks.
The new system for sub-franchise operators took effect on April 1. Under the reformed system sub-franchisees are now required to abide by a new set of regulations which include painting their buses yellow, wear uniforms with clearly displayed identification cards and have route numbers and franchise stickers displayed on the back and front of their vehicles. Order! Accountability! They are also required to pay a fee. According to the operating groups, the sub-franchise fees in some cases have increased from J$280,000 to $756,000. They have been warned that licences will be revoked if the requirements are not adhered to.
JUTC is also going to get heavier with its existing ban on preaching/evangelising on its buses.
It may make for a colourful journey (though I should say that as I’ve not had to deal with it, though recall experiences on the train that used to run across the island, and know it from similar activities in other cities). Jamaica does not have the lock on that. The logic of some pastors/evangelists is that they must spread the word of the Lord wherever and whenever they can. Some of them say we must listen or remove ourselves.
An already tense atmosphere in the process of travelling by bus may get more tense.
Yesterday morning, I wrote about the strange way that Jamaicans think. I headed out to spend the day at the National Stadium complex, where my daughter was swimming in the Mayberry Investments Prep/Primary Schools Swim Meet. I go the complex each Thursday for my daughter’s swim training; I occasionally go there at the weekends for swim meets or sometimes for track and field events. A few things have struck me about the management of the complex, which is the responsibility of Independence Park Ltd, a government agency under the Office of the Prime Minister. IPL’s mission is ‘to manage the entities under its control as viable facilities ensuring that they are maintained at “world class” standards‘. I imagine that most patrons going to the complex don’t know that mission. I wont speak about the other places managed by IPL. But ‘world class standards’ are eluding them, if we’re talking about high standards.
On the many occasions that I have visited the complex over the past nine months, a few things have struck me.
The flow of people is poorly managed: Parking is provided at the complex, and available in three main areas, but I have never seen a sign indicating the parking areas. In somewhat typical Jamaican fashion, it seems that the notion is that if you’ve been before you’ll know where to go. Except that one area is ‘to the back’ of the Stadium near a community called ‘Nannyville’. Parking is for a fee, usually. I have never seen a posted fee structure. Instead, some ‘security personnel’ man the gates and inform parkers of the tariff. That’s a lot of interaction for each car, which tends to make things slower. It also invites negotiation of various forms: people who think they don’t have to pay (eg those in diplomatic vehicles); those who don’t want to pay; those who will pay but want something else, whether on offer or not. At least one guard spends a lot of time telling people that they cannot enter by the gate marked ‘Main Entrance’, to which many drivers flock, naturally.
When multiple events are being staged, such as yesterday with a major all-day swim meet and a major track event, the parking areas are designated for each event, except no one has bothered to make a sign to indicate that. Look, Jamaicans love to put up sign, and even in our sometimes bad English, it would be easy to write ‘UTech Classic Meet parking here’ or ‘Swim Meet parking via Nannyville entrance’. The result? Minor chaos yesterday morning–that, well before the track meet started at 4pm. People got angry as they found they had to turn away from entering near the main gates, or the front of the stadium, and circle around to Nannyville. Lines were forming at the front and the manoeuvering was getting harder as cars started to “bump up against each other” as one angry woman retold the tale. Probably, made worse because many visitors are not regulars at the complex. The guards seemed to lack a few basics in courtesy (and probably were met with similar by some), and “did not have any manners”, as the lady also retold. Lines to enter via Nannyville started to stretch back a long way: the gate had one guard, who in the absence of a sign that said anything other than ‘No entry’ on one side (closed) was having to handle each driver who had a simple query, “Where do I park?” I got there early and parked easily, but judging by announcements at the pool area for drivers to come to move their cars, which were blocking others, things got a bit tight.
I suggest that IPL review how a few excellent stadiums manage the people and car flows. I won’t tout the US, necessarily, but it’s close and has lots of venues of similar size and layout, albeit in a society that is much more car-oriented.
I don’t know how IPL interacts with other agencies and, therefore, which of these problems come from that interaction not working well. But, if that is part of the problem, I’d hope that the OPM would be able to knock heads together and get the matters sorted out. Funnily, for all the talk about Jamaicans and aggressiveness, there’s an amazingly high level of tolerance for the kind of nonsense that exists at the Stadium complex. That may be part of the problem: we know and accept “that’s how we do it”.
Pride of place has to go to Northern Caribbean University (NCU, for its banning of a student for her part in a cheerleading routinethat ‘deviated’ from what was approved (though NCU never vetted the whole routine so it’s not clear what deviation there was from something incomplete–head shaking already). For the record, the team was disqualified and then the summons process began. The proximate problem was that the female student, playing the part of a male groom on top of a wedding cake-simulated pyramid, apparently kissed the hand of the female ‘bride’. She was called to a meeting (I simplify the bureaucratic language), during which she was asked some questions about her personal life (for reasons NCU have deemed no one need know) and handed a two-week suspension from NCU; to this was added a two-year ban from all extra-curricular activities at NCU as a ‘probationary’ measure. Well, some lawyers have had a field day. NCU is a private Seventh Day Adventist institution, but accredited by the University of the West Indies, so has to be consistent with UWI’s overall philosophy, not a law totally unto itself. NCU has also not been as open and clear as it should be. We heard that the student did not show enough ‘remorse’ and that weighed on the punishment. She also attended the meeting with a tongue piercing and without her student ID. Good grief! You’d think someone would either have told her to go get the ID, or given her a ‘temporary pass’. Likewise, if the tongue thingy was so offensive, she could have been told to go to the washroom and remove it before the meeting began in earnest. Too simple? I guess, if you are after pound of flesh.
Many have talked about ‘natural justice’ and punishment fitting the ‘crime’. NCU have not explained why they punished just one of the cheerleading team, and the girl who was on the top, not her supporters. This was not a solo performance, after all. NCU said that another student called to the meeting did not attend. She has not been ‘found’ and hauled before the ‘bailiffs’. They said, when pressed during a television discussion, that investigation are ‘ongoing’, except that no one has been scheduled to any more meetings. All of this coming over a month after the incident. The other students may be ‘in hiding?’, or have run home? NCU surely know who they are. The performance has now featured in videos circulating on YouTube. (Some wags have said the ban should have been for the performance being long and boring.)
People are talking about rules and abiding by them. NCU haven’t actually said what rules were broken, but give the impression that we all know and agree that what happened was terrible (presumably alluding to same-sex relations) and needed to have a student put out of circulation for the rest of her university life, somehow on a probation that is not for review. Sha-Shana James, the student, said on CVM TV that she has no intention of returning to NCU. I wonder why? The school seems to have been a bit knee-jerky and got itself into a least one pickle after another. Take a look at the video of the routine. If the university is about ‘ethos’ etc, you have to wonder why they are getting students to perform cheerleading routines, and ones that start with hip-swinging routines. In this case, they seem to want their (wedding) cake and eat it, too. The amount of onscreen dancing by Charles Evans, who was speaking for NCU on CVM the other night was a little disquieting. NCU has seen only one culprit and have not really sought anyone else. That’s discrimination and they know it and seem to want to play it as something else. But, given that NCU upset some students late last year with a new policy that makes the absence from the twice weekly chapel assembly punishable by expulsion from the institution, we have to understand that the place is strict. But, strictness and sense are not substitutes. The routine was a depiction, not real. The rationale that a man was too heavy to play the role himself seems reasonable. The troupe did not suddenly collapse in disgust as the final move was played out, suggesting at least tacit approval by all in the troupe. Anyway, enough head shaking.
If NCU has a problem with student’s sexual orientation, then be upfront about that and put it on the table. In that sense, the ‘performance’ is irrelevant. If it’s the performance that is a problem, then deal with the performers in a way that makes sense. Look, I for one wont judge NCU for being consistent in applying its rules, but don’t do this cherry picking and dissembling.