Traffic congestion solution?

MEMBER of Parliament for St Andrew South Eastern Julian Robinson is proposing that the Government commissions a study to determine the feasibility of installing light rail in the Kingston Metropolitan Region as a way of reducing traffic congestion and improving public transportation.

Robinson, who made the recommendation during his contribution to the State of the Constituency Debate in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, argued that dealing with public transportation will require thinking outside the box.

He suggested that the most trafficked routes — whether from Half-Way-Tree to Papine, Constant Spring to Half-Way-Tree, would have to be assessed to determine the feasibility of implementing the rail system.

“What we are seeing right now is that the [number] of cars that are coming unto the roads on a weekly basis, we are always going to have this congestion. Whether it is monorail or you use the existing roadway infrastructure, but what I want is do the feasibility to see whether it is something that can be done,” he said.

Highlighting the impact traffic congestion is having in his constituency, Robinson noted that it currently takes over an hour to travel from Matilda’s Corner, down Hope Road to Half-Way-Tree every evening.

“It’s a journey which on a clear day would take about 10 minutes. This congestion is having a negative impact on productivity and the quality of life of residents as they spend hours on the road commuting to and from school and work,” he said.

Robinson argued that the congestion is directly related to the Government’s policy on public transportation, noting that the “deinvestment in the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) has seen this entity operating at about 40 per cent of its capacity”.

“At the same time, the Government has doubled the number of licences issued to public passenger vehicles. What this means is that persons have to wait hours at a bus stop for a JUTC bus,” he said to objections from Government members who pointed to the recent rolling out of new buses.

Robinson said that while the situation has improved, it is still problematic, arguing that about 400 buses should be in operation, but only about 180 or 190 are operational.

“So what it means is that somebody goes to a bus stop and has to wait hours. They can’t wait so they have to jump in a taxi because they have to get to school or they have to go to work. The number of taxis that are on the road causes that congestion — competition cause the indiscipline. I’m not saying new buses [haven’t] come but the problem is still there; it is a reality,” he said.

“Time has come where we must invest properly in the JUTC so that we can put more buses on the road because the persons who have to use the private taxis pay more than when they go in the JUTC buses,” he said.

When 50 new buses arrived in the island in August, Minister of Science, Energy, Telecommunications and Transport Daryl Vaz had promised that this would boost the JUTC’s capacity to roll out 300 units for the new school year in September.

However, Vaz was later forced to defend this figure when Opposition spokesman on transport Mikael Phillips accused the Government of reporting a larger roll-out number and that only 180 buses were actually deployed, not the revised figure of 285 when the JUTC failed to meet the projected 300 target.

“If you do a simple mathematical calculation: If we had 140 buses that was agreed at our lowest a few months ago that we were rolling out and we got 50 new buses, that would take it to 190 buses and that’s without the rehabilitated buses and other buses that require spare parts etcetera,” he said at a post-Cabinet press briefing

Vaz explained that at the start of the new school year, 285 buses were available, but after roll-out, this was reduced to 236 buses due to defects and breakdowns.

He further noted that the challenge the JUTC is having, which caused it not to meet the target of the 300 buses, is that the company has 70 old buses that are aged between 12 and 14 years. He said those buses were rehabilitated for back-to-school but are “not holding up as we expected, so the rehabilitated buses are the ones that are coming back in pretty much as soon as they go out”.

However, on Tuesday, Vaz announced that six new compressed natural gas (CNG) buses arrived in the island and are expected to be rolled out by JUTC by the end of October.

Speaking during a press conference held at the ministry’s Maxfield Avenue offices in Kingston, Vaz said the buses, which are being cleared at the port, are among 20 units which were ordered through a framework agreement. He said the remaining 14 buses are expected to arrive by the end of the year.