By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
Customers and jitney drivers are grappling with a "cultural adjustment" following the roll-out of the bus unification system's test route, the project manager has revealed.
Marvin Clarke, in an interview with Tribune Business, said that while there are talks taking place over "moving to a cashless system" in the future, the inability of drivers to stick to a schedule and customers failing to use the marked bus stops have proven the biggest challenges to-date.
"We are actually progressing very well," Mr Clarke said. "This week is the first week where we are actually now formally gathering data. The data relates to the scheduling itself, and how the buses are actually adhering to the schedule that we have put in place.
"What has been the customer's response? What is the driver's feedback with respect to things like not picking up passengers that are not on the bus stops? We have had a number of instances where customers are flagging the bus down and they are rather disheartened when they are unable to stop for them. We are tracking things like detours, road construction that may be impacting the schedule, and that has been trending nicely."
Mr Clarke added that it was "very likely that considerations will be given to a cashless system" in the bus system based on the discussions so far, and added: "Perhaps it may go hand in hand with a full on roll-out of a unification approach down the road. But I am not at liberty to discuss that because that is not part of this remit.
"My remit now is to test the route, and test our ability to adhere to a schedule and our ability to change driver mentality around racing up and down. The biggest challenge we have with customers is that customers need to be educated around going to a bus stop, being picked up and being dropped off at a bus stop.
"Just to get that change set in place, that's the remit, and to gather the data in terms of what the feedback is. What are some of the issues we're facing with respect to customers coming to the bus stop? Is it too far away? Is the bus not properly sheltered? We will be able to get all of that from the No.17 route. Believe it or not, we are getting quite a bit of information from the No.17 bus and that should flip over into the other bus routes."
Giving an example of the innovations the bus unification pilot project has put in place, Mr Clarke said, "There is nowhere in the current system where busses are being tracked, but if you come to our dispatch office we are able to see all of the busses on that particular No.17 route being tracked on a daily basis.
"We are able to say how fast they are moving. We are able to say when they're off route, and we are also able to determine the spacing between the busses so you are able to have a reasonable expectation that a bus would get to a certain point at a certain time.
"That's where we spent much of our last month actually trying to gauge how fast do you have to be moving, and what are the peak hours in terms of traffic flow and whether or not you need to drop another bus in. So we have been running three in the morning and, on average, two or three in the evening depending on the driver access, because we have had a number of turnover with drivers. Drivers are a big challenge."
Mr Clarke continued: "One of the challenges we're having now, and I suppose because we haven't done a good job of advertising, is attracting drivers. One of the issues we're facing is a number of drivers have entered the project and are a little disappointed when they realise that it's not a project where you race to get fares, but you adhere to a schedule as opposed to racing to get fares.
"So we have had a number of young persons who have come in, and it's a cultural adjustment for a lot of them - one where we say there is no need to speed, you are going to get paid no matter what whether you pick up one passenger or no passenger. They are salaried men, so we quickly removed the incentive for fares. So they are paid whether they make $1 or $10 on a weekly basis."
Asked whether the unification project will result in one company, or the continuation of the jitney system as it is now, Mr Clarke said: "That's a decision that will be made once this study has provided the data, because there are a number of things that we didn't know when we approached this whole problem of how do you get to a point of regulating the bus system.
"So we were getting a lot of anecdotal information from various stakeholders and we said: 'Ok, let's do a study of one particular island and get our own data, and then we will provide a report with our recommendation with regard to the way forward'.
"It's not so much that we didn't have an idea of what was out there. The problem is how do you put in place and propose the correct solution? What we didn't know is that we didn't have a scientific structure on where to put bus stops. But stops go anywhere and, in some cases, you would see even on that particular No.17 route where bus stops perhaps may be too close together on both sides of the road," Mr Clarke continued.
"So going forward you would then have an engineering perspective on where to put bus stops and, based on some sort of data around on where the populace lives, there will be some demand analysis if it's feasible to put in 10 bus stops within a certain area because that impacts traffic flow. That's the problem that we're having. We have always had a culture where persons get on the bus and ask for change. Nowhere in the act does it say that you are supposed to have change on the busses."