The Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) is warning of a dramatic collapse of Government’s public transportation service unless “urgent and drastic” remedial action is taken to rescue the Transport Board from a half billion dollar deficit.
“I feel I have a responsibility to warn the public that unless urgent and drastic remedial action is taken, the Transport Board faces the very real possibility of an implosion in its finances and a meltdown of its ability to keep buses on the road in support of the economic and social activities of Barbadians,” the BLP’s Ian Gooding-Edghill said in a statement to the media.
Gooding-Edghill, who served as chairman of the Transport Board from 2002 to 2007, contended that in addition to the deficit, the agency’s inability to pay its suppliers or collect millions of dollars owed by various ministries, pointed to a looming crisis.
“Since 2008 the accumulated deficit of the Transport Board has ballooned to more than half a billion dollars, reaching $516.4 million at the end of the 2015-16 financial year; the Transport Board is in a constant and desperate struggle to pay the some $29 million it owes its suppliers; the Board is presently owed more than $30 million by the Ministries of Education and Social Care; and the fare revenue for financial year 2015-16 declined by $4 million against its annual budget,” he charged.
The BLP candidate for St Michael West Central maintained that a requested supplementary funding of $45 million for the 2015/2016 financial year was not received in full, resulting in continued pressure on the institution’s finances, and warned that the situation could get worse by the month.
Gooding-Edghill added that the number of Transport Board buses on the road fell from 310 in 2007, shortly before the BLP left office, to 139; not enough, he said, to service the 70 bus routes island-wide and maintain a good school bus service.
He blamed the ruling Democratic Labour Party for rising maintenance costs of about $19 million annually, suggesting half of this money would have been better spent on a fleet replacement programme.
“I am accordingly forced to conclude that the refusal of the Democratic Labour Party Government to continue the fleet replacement programme I left in place as chairman at the end of 2007, can only be described as shortsighted and politically silly to the disadvantage of the bus traveling public,” Gooding-Edghill said.
He recommended the inclusion on the agency’s board of directors, people with better business sense who are capable of making decisions that would prevent “the financial catastrophe that threatens it.
“Until this happens, the Board’s finances will continue to haemorrhage, with poor service becoming a permanent feature of its operations.”
The BLP spokesman also called on Minister of Transport Michael Lashley to be transparent as he investigates if foreign mechanics had been authorized or contracted to repair buses at the Mangrove depot.
“The public must surely be fully aware that we already have several garages which are not only capable of repairing and servicing these buses, but have been doing so for several years. To outsource this labour and these skills that are readily available here, amounts to a stinging insult to our Barbadian mechanics and technicians,” he said.