It is unfortunate that the Sunday Sun newspaper of July 23, 2017 carried information under the captioned article “Slow Ride” that was both erroneous and misleading at a time when the Transport Board continues to work on its issues with low bus availability that are proving to be very challenging.
It must be stated that we are operating with an aging fleet with the oldest buses being 20 years, having been purchased in 1997, and the youngest being 11 years which were purchased in 2006. Undoubtedly, this has resulted in several mechanical problems which continue to impact heavily on the daily bus availability. Of note, is that in the UK buses are replaced every 5 years.
Even though we have been working closely with a number of service providers on the island over the years to address these challenges, the ongoing declining levels of bus availability have forced us to think outside the box to reduce costs and improve the number of buses on the road.
To this end, we engaged a consultant to offer advice, give guidance and to assist in the sourcing of more affordable parts from overseas, as the cost from local providers proved burdensome. The consultant was chosen due to his qualifications, vast experience in the repairs to diesel engines and fleet maintenance management. It must also be pointed out that the services of the said consultant were requested in 1998 to address certain problems being experienced with the buses that had been purchased in 1997.
He was also mandated to re-structure the Quality Assurance department which is the nerve centre of the Transport Board which is responsible for bus availability. As at the time of his engagement the bus availability had reached an average level of 117 buses on the road and has since risen to a high of 150 during his tenure. The figure in your article of an average of 80 buses on the road is incorrect, and it must be stated that without the assistance of the said consultant it is very possible that this figure would be significantly lower.
One of the terms of his contract included housing accommodation and this is standard operating procedure. The contract also included one round trip ticket. Therefore, as was said in the third paragraph of the said Sunday Sun article that he is given two tickets per month is untrue. In fact, the only time the consultant returned to Trinidad since the commencement of his contract in March 2016 was two weeks ago and it was at his own expense.
The vehicle referenced in the said article is not exclusive to the consultant. It is a used vehicle which is utilised by the employees at the service centres as well as the messenger when not in use by the said consultant.
In the said article, it was stated that the engagement of the consultant led to the bus allocation to the local service providers being reduced substantially to a total of 25 buses, in order that they can be “diverted to Mangrove”, is totally incorrect. This information is particularly misleading when as of 23 July 2017 the same day the article was published, the number of buses at service providers was as follows: UCAL – 43 buses, Simpson Motors – 15 buses, Quality Care – 12 buses, TransTech – 13 buses, L&N Inc – 14 buses and the inhouse Quality Assurance department had 27 buses.
The said article also stated that parts or components sourced or purchased from China were not suitable and now had to be stored in drums at Mangrove, St. Philip, as they could not be used. This is also totally incorrect. In fact, the said parts were removed from some of the buses and are now to be repaired – thus eliminating the need to purchase new ones at a much higher cost. For example, a new starter costs approximately $2,500.00, but a defective one can be repaired and returned to operation for approximately $200.00 thus resulting in a saving of approximately $2,300.00.
With respect to the purchasing of parts to the tune of US$40,000.00 from China, this figure is also erroneous. Since embarking on the process of sourcing parts from China, the Transport Board only experienced failure in one part, namely a compressor, and it was returned and replaced by the company at no additional cost to the Transport Board. In addition, twelve (12) used engines were purchased from China of which six (6) are already in buses working. The remaining six engines are being serviced. It is significant that the parts sourced by the consultant have been deemed to be of a very high quality and this was substantiated by an independent audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and a recommendation to continue to use this system was made.
As regards the last paragraph in the said article, the Transport Board never sent any delegation to the USA to purchase parts. However, a delegation went to Brazil and negotiated substantial reductions in the cost of parts.
On the issue of his salary, the said article stated that the consultant receives over $22,000.00 per month. This is also inaccurate. The consultant does not get anywhere near that figure.
It must be stated that since the consultant came to the Transport Board, at least 27 engines were built at a cost of $301,696.00 whereas if these engines had been purchased from the traditional source, the cost would have been $810,000.00. Thus, this method saved the Transport Board approximately $509,000.00. In addition, 27 transmissions have been refurbished to date at a cost of $7,000.00 each whereas previously to have this same job done locally the cost would have been exponentially higher. To date the Transport Board has saved in excess of $4.5 million due to the employment of the said consultant
Finally, I must stress that the role of the media is to educate, entertain and inform “Mr John Public” but it must be done honestly, rationally and the information must be well balanced. What was printed in the Nation newspaper of July 23, 2017 was not only untruthful but portrayed the consultant in a negative light and also as an unnecessary and expensive appendage at the Transport Board. At no time did the article highlight any benefits which the Transport Board gained by having the services of the said consultant. This is quite unfortunate and the reading public has been upset by the article.