KINGSTON –– The Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) will be moving aggressively, as of January, to have cash passengers pay a higher fare than Smarter Card holders to dissuade riders from using cash, as the bus company tries to protect its crew from robberies.
The move will start with an education campaign, JUTC chairman Dr Garnett Roper told the Jamaica Observer yesterday. The payment structure was supposed to have come on stream already, but the education campaign — which must precede it — did not get off the ground on January 1 of this year as was planned.
Roper said the hold-up and murder of 51-year-old JUTC driver Albert Barnes on Tuesday night in August Town, St Andrew, was a glaring reminder that cash transactions put bus crew in grave danger.
Barnes, who hailed from Greater Portmore in St Catherine, was shot by robbers when their demand for money was not met. The incident occurred at approximately 9 p.m. as Barnes prepared for a return trip to Half-Way-Tree. He was rushed to the nearby University Hospital of the West Indies where doctors declared him dead.
“This is what yesterday proved. Looking at the video of the robbery, it took 13 seconds from the time the man drew the gun and spoke to the driver to when he shot him; so cash puts the employees at risk,” he said.
He noted that, at the end of the education campaign and review process, passengers who want to use cash will have to pay $120, while those who use Smarter Cards will pay $100.
Roper said this higher fare for cash passengers was expected to serve as “punitive fare” to push persons to get Smarter Cards. He pointed out also that passengers such as the disabled, the elderly and children, if they wanted to benefit from concession fares, must use their cards.
“The problem that we are facing is that the majority of adult passengers use cash; even if they have a card they do not top up the card,” he said.
The JUTC has been pushing towards a cashless system for some time now, but Roper said cabinet must give the go ahead in order for it to happen.
“We want to go cashless; it is in our interest,” he told the Observer.
Roper is sceptical of the view held by many that the people who are most vulnerable are not likely to have cards, but are more likely to have the cash only when they need it.
“I’m not convinced of that. I think, just like with cellphone, people will make the adjustment,” he stated.
In the meantime, the chairman said police officers continue to travel on random units, but they do so free of cost, so “there may or may not be a police on any bus at any time”. He said the main disincentive to criminal elements is detection, and that the video footage of Tuesday night’s robbery and killing would prove to be just that.
“There will be a video that showed the youngsters boarding the bus, holding up the man, shooting the man. That’s a hell of a deterrent. What we can do is encourage people to believe that somebody will watch the footage and lock you up,” Roper emphasized.
He said also that the JUTC was pushing to have video footage linked to the police to enable them to directly monitor what was happening on the units.
“We now have the capacity to do it, it’s just a question of software and making it uniformed throughout the system. They do it in Ecuador, and other places in Central America,” he said.
Fare box theft by employees, another consequence of cash transactions, has been substantially stymied in recent times, Roper also said.
“To the extent that we use the card, it is not impossible, but it is near impossible,” he remarked, noting that, up to yesterday the JUTC had already earned revenue of $520 million, the highest ever in a single month in its history.
Meanhile, yesterday, incensed residents of August Town and political representatives protested the killing.
“For the past 14 years we have not had a murder during the Christmas period and it is just very sad that the JUTC driver was gunned down by a careless person,” said Member of Parliament for St Andrew Eastern Andre Hylton.
The councillor for the Papine Division Veneisha Phillips shared similar sentiments.
“For over a year we have experienced calm activity and life has returned, and this one blot on the community is not something that residents take very lightly. They are speaking out and that is what is important,” said Phillips.
Jamaica Labour Party caretaker for St Andrew Eastern, Fayval Williams, was also among the protesters. She described the killing as “senseless”.
“We are in support of the move from resident because the incident has left us all in shock,” said Williams.