The perennial issue of duty-free concessions for the private operators of public service vehicles (PSVs) re-emerged Wednesday, one day after Government announced plans to increase taxes on petrol.
The PSV operators had hoped that Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler would have listened to their cry for relief at last when he presented the 2017 Financial Statements and Budgetary Proposals.
Instead they, along with every vehicle operator here, were hit with a 24-cent increase in the excise tax on diesel and a 25-cent rise in the tax on gasoline, to go with increased levies on goods and services imposed on the general population.
This led ZR driver Marvon Joseph who operates on the Howell and Ivy route to return to the topic of duty-free concessions.
“I does can’t speak on diesel because I use gas every day,” Joseph told Barbados TODAY from the River van stand.
“Long time we ZR men wanted duty-free and we won’t get it and that is real bad. We does take care of everybody in the island so I feel that not only the taxi men, but the ZRs as well,” he said.
Joseph was resigned to paying the additional tax because “Government has to do what it has to do”.
However, fellow driver Jamol Yearwood was not pleased at all, describing the new measure as harsh.
“It rough because when the day done that is more diesel you have to put in, and the boss gine still want he money and passengers isn’t [increasing],” he said.
While the signs were clear that Sinckler was not about to grant their wish, owner and driver Ian Walcott was still clinging onto hope that the minister would entice them with some concessions.
Therefore, he was disappointed with the Budget, telling Barbados TODAY it was a clear indication that the Freundel Stuart administration was disrespecting the owners and operators.
“The Government has again shown its disrespect for the PSV industry and the pivotal role it plays. It disadvantages the citizens of Barbados,” he charged.
“What I was looking for from a PSV owner standpoint is duty-free. I don’t understand how the Government sees it fit to offer duty concessions to every other player in the PSV industry, yet somehow the main transporters . . . ZRs and minibus are not eligible.”
Walker said diesel represented the largest expenditure for PSV operators and the tax increase would hurt the business.
“Diesel takes up more money than anything, and not only that they increase the general cost of doing business. It means that income for my passengers will decrease, which means that ridership indirectly would be affected. I can’t imagine what will happen in the near future.
“People don’t understand we rely on everyday passengers and if you raise the general cost of doing business people will go home,” he stressed.
Complaining that they spend over $13 million a year to ensure their vehicles are road worthy for commuter safety, Vice President of the Alliance Owners of Public Transport (AOPT) Charles Layne had appealed earlier this month to Sinckler to grant them duty-free concessions on new vehicles to replace the aging ones, many of which are well over 20 years old.
The PSV owners and operators have long contended that while members of Barbados’ horse racing fraternity were granted duty waivers on parts imported for their automobiles, the people whose livelihoods depended on their vehicles received no such privileges.
A fare increase which had also been one of the demands of the operators and owners was taken off the table, with Layne telling Barbados TODAY at the time although a hike would be more than welcomed, piling on more expenses on an already overburdened population would be “a little tight”.
Similar sentiments were expressed today by the PSV drivers, who felt a rise would hit passengers and the economy rather hard.
However, Walker also felt Government would not entertain the idea this close to a general election.
“It is about re-election, but if Government is saying to me that they want to maintain bus fare at $2 no problem; give me the tools and put provisions in place that I can operate a comfortable and profitable business at $2.”
In the end, the conversation returned to duty waivers, with another operator who identified himself as Cake Soap suggesting it was the least they had expected in tough economic times.
“We should be entitled to duty-free for the simple fact that these vans work very hard. We have a lot of load holding and wear and tear on the vehicles and I believe the men should get the concession,” he said.
Asked to comment on the Budget, Chairman of the Alliance of Owners of Public Transport Roy Raphael told Barbados TODAY the umbrella body was planning a post Budget discussion on the petrol increase, at which both the tax and the topic of concessions would be discussed.