The JUTC is playing by their own rules. Success for them has nothing to do with the rest of us. They aim to reduce the amount they take from the consolidated fund and if possible break even- or at least come in below the lofty cost projections of the Ministry of Finance. Despite the fall in fuel prices they still draw down from the conslidated fund, constantly change their goal post for cost containment and have yet to break even. The JUTC has failed us.
My vision for the JUTC: provide such a safe, reliable and affordable transportation solution that the average Jamaican, regardless of parish or income, wants to take buses instead of feeling a ‘need’ to own a car. Therefore, they are providing a service for all Jamaicans and make owning a car an unnecessary luxury. You can set your watch on the reliability of our public transportation system.
How can this vision be realized?
Step 1: Expand the franchise bus system and make it more integrated
– All public passenger vehicles that are the size of a minibus and above, once plying a public route (and not being chartered) should be registered by the JUTC. Franchise routes are to be distributed evenly across the island and the cost should properly reflect administrative costs of the following:
- GPS Tracker for all franchise buses
- Cost to paint buses “regulation Yellow” to signal to commuters whether the bus is legal. (This yellow should be hard to copy and immediately apparent. Maybe it doesn’t have to be yellow)
- Cost to install a speed limiter preventing buses from exceeding the highest speed limit on the route.
- Administrative and licensing fees associated with integrating bus in the Control Centre (more on this later.)
- Cost of monthly random spot checks for each bus. The Revenue Assurance team (more on this later) would check driver documentation and also whether installed systems were tampered with.
– Each bus that services a public route should have access to prepaid fuel rations at the JUTC depot. The rations are based on calculations of average (mean) gas consumption during route operating hours taking into account traffic and frequent stoppages. Buses are allowed very strict limits, but it would be worth getting because the discount on current fuel rates would be significant (JUTC gets their gas cheaper than average Jamaican drivers.) The JUTC can charge an administrative premium on the gas and still fall below prices at normal gas stations.
– In addition to subscribing to service a route, buses subscribe to service a time slot during the day. An example would be: in the morning the JUTC determines which buses work the routes at specific times to ensure that during peak hours commuters have a five minute delay between buses and a 20 minute delay in off-peak hours. The forecasted arrival times would then be posted at each bus stop. This can be digital and shielded by unbreakable glass- or it can be paper based.
Step 2: Set-up a fully staffed Command Centre for Bus Route Operations
– Using GPS and 3G Technology all buses registered to the JUTC should be monitored by a centralised control centre. The centre fulfills the following functions:
- Track buses
- Communicate with drivers about traffic updates
- Tracks buses vital statistics as conveyed by “black box” on all public (and franchise) buses
- Communicates with police/fire/ambulance when emergencies arise
- Makes decisions on expanding or contracting unplanned route or time assignments
– The command centre monitors traffic across the island, not just Kingston. Buses that operate on routes illegally are fair game and can be impounded by the police
– The centre uses statistical modeling and forecasting to ensure that franchises get a fair mix of peak and off-peak operating times. JUTC buses are used to traverse particularly unattractive routes (routes and/or times that have few franchise subscriptions) as well as to serve inter-parish routes. The idea is that it would cost more for JUTC to send it’s own bus on the road than it would for them to coordinate a franchise bus from the command centre AND JUTC is still a public service. Cost Reduction > Revenue Generation
What makes the Command Centre transformational is the fact that JUTC always knows exactly where all public buses are located, verifies whether route times are being maintained and applies the necessary corrective actions to ensure commuters get their buses on time.
Step 3: Use Smart-City Technology to deploy Smart Bus Stops
– Deploy RFID tags at each bus stop that “checks in” buses and creates a running log of bus location, duration at the stop and log-in time relative to forecast
– Use smart analytics to find patterns between bus check-in, driver receipts per stop and duration at stop to make more accurate forecasting models on the number of buses needed at a particular time on a particular route.
– Post through Google Maps as well as JUTC’s website comprehensive route and location data as well as efficiency and forecast accuracy metrics to keep the public informed and hold the system accountable.
– Analysis of the data can accurately show the relative value of routes and times as well as the cost to service those routes by the JUTC directly versus the cost to only support the route remotely. This would be important during the annual route and time bidding process.
Changing the Operating Model
The JUTC’s stretch financial target should be to break even, while the realistic target should be positive cash flow. However, the true goal should be aligned to serving customers- and not to serving a budget. The budget is determined by the customer’s needs- not the other way around.
Revenue Assurance should be a core function and ought to be augmented. More surveillance of both owned and franchised buses, quality control to achieve Six Sigma, Mystery Customer Route surveys and complaints management should be headed by a single division with broad powers. Drivers for both the JUTC and Franchises should be thoroughly screened and a probationary period maintained for evaluation. There should be zero tolerance for theft, tampering with speed limiter or GPS as well as working outside of assigned routes and times. The public should be encouraged to report instances of drivers picking up or dropping off passengers outside of assigned routes as well as generally unsafe driving. A lottery can be established across the system to reward customers who submit their tickets weekly/monthly to win regular and valuable prizes. This way people have a compelling reason to demand their ticket from drivers conductors.
The cashless model should not be abandoned, but it needs to be integrated in the franchise system. The minimum fare requirement to top-up a smarter card should be two adult rides. Additionally, the JUTC should achieve parity of fares across the island, for all owned and franchised buses. At every opportunity the JUTC should seek to lower fares across the island- and this can only be achieved through getting closer to Six Sigma level efficiency. There should not be a duplication of bus stations, bus parks or bus policy – one system.
The JUTC needs to care more about cost reduction than revenue generation. It is a cost centre and not a profit centre. The JUTC should continue to compete with private buses for charter services and seek creative ways to generate revenue but never compromise the vision.
Oh- and stop buying buses that are too big for our roads…
Summing it all up
I currently drive- but if I could use Google Maps to find an appropriate bus stop (like I can in Atlanta, London, New York, Miami etc.) and get a comfortable bus to get around during week days, then driving would be a weekend activity. Smart technology and big data analytics can create the kind of bus system we all want. While the data does the heavy lifting the JUTC fulfills the support function of keeping everyone disciplined and honest. In a few years when posts in the JUTC are available, I would love to be a technocrat tasked with making this vision a reality within a single election cycle (cause that’s how long things in government have to work.)