The joint committee representing public service vehicle (PSV) owners and operators has written to Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler demanding an increase in bus fares.
In the letter dated June 14, 2017 and subtitled, A Call for an Increase in the Fare Charged to Passengers by the PSV Industry and for Duty Free Concessions on Replacement Vehicles, the owners asked for no less than a 50 per cent rise, increasing the fees passengers pay from $2.00 to $3.00.
It is their response to the austere budgetary measures announced by Sinckler last month, which include increases of 24 cents and 25 cents per litre in the excise duty on diesel and gasoline, as well as the introduction of a two per cent tax on foreign exchange transactions and a steep jump in the National Social Responsibility Levy from two per cent to ten per cent.
President of the Association of Public Transport Operators (APTO) Morris Lee told Barbados TODAY in a telephone interview the operators simply could not afford to absorb the additional costs, and were worried about the future of the sector after Sinckler delivered the 2017 Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals on May 30.
“We have been really concerned about the state of the industry from a financial perspective, and after what we heard in this year’s Budget presentation we are even more concerned. The industry is about to be hit with some challenges given the proposed hike in the cost of doing business,” Lee said.
Wednesday’s letter was the third in as many years that APTO and the Alliance of Operators of Public Transport (AOPT) have written to Sinckler requesting some form of reprieve, the last time being on July 25 last year.
Early last month the grouping had told Barbados TODAY they were hoping Sinckler would finally hear their cry and provide relief in the Budget.
Complaining that they spend over $13 million a year to ensure their vehicles are road worthy – many of which are well over 20 years old – AOPT Vice President Charles Layne had said they would have liked duty-free concessions on new vehicles to replace the aging ones.
Layne had also said they had taken a fare rise off the table because piling on more expenses on an already overburdened population would be “a little tight”.
“We ain’t looking at the bus fares right now because we more or less looking at the economic situation in the country; and then you have a lot of people not working and some who working have to catch two buses every day, and right now they are paying $8 a day,” Layne had pointed out.
While tax concessions remain their preferred option, the owners and operators have decided to revisit the issue of an increase in fares in the absence of any reference to relief in the Budget.
Lee told Barbados TODAY the owners and operators asked Sinckler in the letter to conduct a proper analysis of the cost of doing business for PSV operators compared to the state-owned Transport Board.
“Government recognized that although the Transport Board is currently getting $7 per passenger, they still need to get $40 million in subsidies to stay in business. The PSVs who do not have the luxury of duty-free diesel or buses like the Transport Board are still expected to undertake [transporting] Barbadians to and from work at $2 per passenger.
“So we are saying that in light of these circumstances some relief should be seriously considered given the emergency that is about to hit us in terms of providing adequate transport,” he said.
Lee contended that privately run PSVs transport “anywhere between 70 to 75 per cent” of the island’s passengers “so therefore the operators are really carrying the burden for Barbados, and I am hoping that the finance minister would see it that way”.
He reiterated that Sinckler did not have to raise bus fares if he could present other creative ways to assist the PSVs.
“An increase in bus fare is an option the finance minister could consider but it is not an immediate resort. The finance minister can also set up a fund . . . what we are asking is that, yes we are commuting passengers same way, we get the $2 but that other $5 or $6 is absent. [There must be] some fund to buffer the harsh impact the Budget is going to have,” he said.