The operators of public service vehicles (PSVs) are sending a strong word of warning to the major political parties here that their approximately 7,000 votes will not be given away cheaply come the next general election.
President of the Association of Public Transport Operators (APTO) Morris Lee said the ZR and minibus operators intend to make their votes count in the election, due by next year.
However, he said neither the incumbent Democratic Labour Party (DLP), nor the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) should take their Xs for granted.
Lee accused both parties of delivering nothing but cheap promises in the past, and warned they both would have to work much harder than they have done before to impress the operators.
“I want to respectfully say to both political parties that several hundred operators have indicated to me that they eagerly await the manifesto of both parties to see what the Government intends to do for them. Any [political] party that is bold enough to leave out the public service vehicles, given the fact that the statistical department just two weeks ago said that there are close to 7,000 PSV operators in Barbados, would have a surprise coming. If they are bold enough to omit the concerns of the operators in their manifesto, they would be running the risk of not being noticed when election day comes,” Lee told Barbados TODAY in an interview yesterday.
Among the key demands of the operators are duty-free concessions on spare parts for their vehicles and dedicated lanes to cut travel times.
The owners and operators have long contended that while members of Barbados’ horse racing fraternity were granted duty waivers on parts imported for their vehicles, the people whose livelihoods depended on their vehicles received no such privileges.
They have also said they felt restricted in the face of rising costs because they were prohibited from charging higher fares, and that clogged roads were making it challenging to get people to their destinations, particularly when there are cruise ships in the port.
Added to these challenges, Lee said, were the potholes on their routes, which impact severely on the aging vehicles.
He said unlike private drivers who had the luxury of choosing the route least riddled with craters, PSVs operators had no choice but to stick to their respective routes regardless of the road condition.
“If as a PSV operator, I have to run from Warrens to Rendezvous via a particular route, I cannot divert if the roads good or they bad. I have to take the same route or else I would get locked up. So my argument is that the operators have to endure the hardship of travelling on bad roads by law because they cannot run the risk of diversion. As a result of that compulsory routine the vehicles have taken a beating, particularly over the last six years and therefore if there was ever a time that they needed some kind of relief in terms of their operations it is now,” he said.
Lee also suggested that those vying to form the next Government must acknowledge that the regulatory structure was in desperate need of an overhaul, as the status quo was heavily skewed against owners and operators.
“You have PSVs on the road that are close to 35 years of age because the operators are forced to keep these vehicles for long periods of time because a new vehicle is $1/4 million. A duty-free bus would be under $100,000 but the duty is about 83 per cent.
“So therefore you paying that amount for the vehicle, you working for $2 as legislated and when you pay Value Added Tax on diesel, tyres and parts, you cannot claim back a cent because PSVs are not structured within the VAT system. We can only pay the VAT but we cannot get back anything. So the Governments have a lot of food for thought,” Lee stressed.
Any of the two major parties that demonstrate a willingness to tackle those issues will get the PSV votes, he suggested.