Thinking deficit: JUTC’s busted logic

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!

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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…

Help me decide. Do we have the ability to make strategic decisions?

This is a totally off-the-cuff notion. Do Jamaicans have a basic problem making good decisions?

I listened yesterday to some of the commentary on a girls football match, involving the Jamaican national under-17 team. Several times, I heard the observation “We have problems making the right decisions…” The commentator went on to say that it’s evident with the men’s senior team, boys teams, women’s national teams, and on.

Some have said for a long time that the Jamaican educational system does not foster good decision-making. People talk about the preponderance of rote learning. I’m not familiar enough with the whole school system to know whether that is still true. But, if it is, then there may be a systematic and systemic problem that we have bred into our society.

Casual observation suggests that in many areas, people have problems making good and quick decisions. A certain bias toward ‘safe’ decisions is also observed, especially in areas where people are wary of protecting their positions, such as a particular employment. I’m astonished sometimes when I hear “Mi don’ wan’ lose mi job, if mi let you…” It’s not something unique to Jamaica. It’s the same as “I’m not paid to make that decision…” or “You’ll need to speak to someone in authority…”

In the sports context, and looking at those performing at the highest levels, the local football players’ instincts are often questionable. Seasoned players do things that are common for elementary age players, but should have been corrected by the time they were in high school. It’s not a matter of technique in the cases I am considering. I’ve watched a few matches in person–mainly elementary and middle schoolers–and notice that many of the coaches are ‘yellers’, i.e. they scream instructions at players, berating them for their ‘mistakes’. Few, if any, coaches have shown confidence in the players to make decisions for themselves. The players respond to direction. I need to look more carefully to see if this trend continues up the ranks.

Certainly, in this limited field, there are worrying signs. I watched two top professional teams play a final match this week. The ability of players to demonstrate that they have thought through problems was lacking, even in aspects separate from playing. Team members fought amongst each other, as if they did not realise that this was a problem for the officials. They remonstrated with officials, as if they did not realise that this was an offense. They made bad decisions about what to do with the ball. In some senses, it was as if each player was in a vacuum space of his own. This may be a huge psychological issue, and I’m not competent to comment on that aspect.

Out of the sports arena, we can look at how people assess risks. Simple examples abound. Drivers are aware of the risks of accidents, and take precautions to protect themselves. But, they will be oblivious to the risks of passengers, even to the extent of endangering themselves in the case of a driver who lets a small child sit on his or her lap while driving the vehicle in traffic. A massive disconnection must be going on in the brain of the driver.

Dealing with institutions here, I’ve been interested in how people respond when given the ‘out’ to show that they are not competent, e.g. by saying “No problem, if you do not know the answer.”

I’m going to keep looking and thinking about this for a while.