Phillips vows to protect JUTC
DR Peter Phillips said good-bye to Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) staff yesterday and promised them that he would protect and support the state-run bus company in his new job as national security minister which he starts today.
"I know that there are forces out there which would like to set back the new bus system to another time, but I give you my commitment that in my new responsibility I will do everything to ensure the utmost protection and support for the system," Phillips said at a special farewell function held for him by JUTC staff at the company's Lyndhurst Road depot.
It was Phillips who, during his tenure as transport and works minister, turned around the public transportation system from a ramshackle, disorganised service staffed by undisciplined crews who basically showed no regard for their passengers' comfort and safety, or for schedules.
He won much plaudits for the effort and increased his ratings as a government minister who got things done.
On more than one occasion, though, he has had to condemn violent attacks on JUTC buses, the most recent of which occurred on October 9 when a group of men stoned a bus in the vicinity of the Shell gas station on Marcus Garvey Drive in Kingston.
The attack, which resulted in a temporary disruption of early morning rush hour service, came just a week after residents of Marverly threw a firebomb into a JUTC bus on the Washington Boulevard during a violent protest against the police killing of a man in their community.
The bus company's staff have also been seriously injured in other incidents in the Corporate Area and on May 23 this year, the company suffered major losses when its warehouse in Spanish Town, St Catherine was partially destroyed by fire and two buses valued at $20 million were extensively damaged.
Despite these setbacks, Phillips told the JUTC staff yesterday that he would use the success of the bus system as an inspiration in his new job, arguably the toughest portfolio in the country, given Jamaica's excessive rate of murder and other violent crime.
"At the beginning, I thought a new bus system was possible and had a few doubts, but I am glad that the dream has come through, and the fact that it has happened here gives me hope for the new responsibility," said Phillips.
"Many people told me it was impossible to reform the transport system and to rebuild the Kingston Public Hospital when I was health minister, but as difficult as it may be to bring the peace and order we want for our country, with the support of the people, everything is possible."
Joseph Matalon, the JUTC chairman, wished Phillips well in his new job and said the bus company needed Phillips' help.
"We expect that in his new place he will remember us, because we are under siege and need him in his new portfolio," said Matalon.
Karen Grant, a conductress, told the Observer that she felt bad about Phillips' transfer and said that he would be missed.
Another conductress, Jennifer Merchant, said: "I will miss him because he was like a father and I didn't want him to go."
Bus driver Mark Seccard said: "I am sad that he is leaving, but glad about the new area he is going to because he has the vision to get the job done."
Phillips also used the occasion to announce that the luxury bus service he had told the country about earlier this year would be introduced on a phased basis starting November 15 with the Spanish Town to Half-Way-Tree route.
The other three routes -- Half-Way-Tree to the Norman Manley International Airport; Spanish Town to downtown and Harbour View to Half-Way-Tree -- will start service on December 1, he said.
The function also heard a JUTC song penned and sung by conductress, Diamond McNeish.
The song will eventually be heard on radio as part of the company's drive to encourage public support for the JUTC.