Relief might finally be in sight for commuters hard hit by a chronic shortage of Government buses.
Minister of Transport and Works Michael Lashley announced in Parliament today the expansion of the integration of privately owned public service vehicles (PSVs) and the state owned Transport Board service, which would allow for PSVs to operate from Transport Board terminals across the island.
Lashley said in an effort to ease the strain on the ageing fleet that causes frequent breakdowns, leaving passengers stranded, Cabinet had given its approval last week to widen the scope of the integration of the private and Government owned passenger services.
“It was only last week that Cabinet agreed to the expansion of this project to alleviate the problems that we are now having at the Transport Board . . . .There is a role now for the private sector to play in public transport alongside the Transport Board,” he said during debate on the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for 2018 to 2019.
Government launched the experimental programme of combining the services of the Transport Board and PSVs – officially called the Transport Authority Service Integration (TASI) project – in December 2015 on the Edey Village, Christ Church route, before adding the Sturges, St Thomas route.
Its aim was to introduce the concept of transportation service integration to Barbados, and it was designed primarily to reduce the inconveniences associated with the Transport Board bus schedules.
With the revelation late last month that school children were being left stranded up until about 8 p.m. due to the shortage of buses, raising fresh concerns about the reliability of the state- run service, Lashley today said the expansion of the TASI project was critical now more than ever.
“Based on the importance of public transport and looking at the development of a public transport policy, it now moves the ministry to engage those persons again, expand the project not only to the Fairchild Street terminal, but the Princess Alice terminal and all other terminals that are involved in public transport,” he told his parliamentary colleagues, adding that this collaboration was expected to remain in place until the Transport Board upgrades its fleet.
The minister explained that of the over 250 buses owned by the statutory agency, more than 175 were at least 18 years old, with 77 of them at least 21 years old.
He said integrating the two public transportation systems would “positively affect” the durability and maintenance of Government’s fleet, “allowing the Transport Board to concentrate solely on particular routes, or concentrate on moving the school children. Then at peak hours when there is a challenge we integrate the private sector into moving the passengers”.
Additionally, the minister said Cabinet had agreed to allow private operators to use the open area outside the Fairchild Street terminal on evenings, “because of the fear of passengers walking over to River Terminal and the risk”.
He said while his ministry would be sourcing parts for the old buses, other equipment such as the 40-year-old hoist used the Ministry of Transport and Works (MTS)for inspection were breaking down because of age.
“We instructed the [MTW] workshop to look at purchasing a new hoist so that inspections would not be delayed,” he said.
The Transport Board had issued a statement at the end of January cautioning that the shortages and delays were likely to continue for weeks, while explaining that a number of its buses were undergoing inspection at the licensing authority, but the process had stalled because the hoist at the MTW had been out of commission for more than a year.
It added that it had been working with the ministry in search of an alternative location to have inspection done, but this too was being hampered by the unavailability of equipment.