Amid debate on a $5 million bail out package for the state-run Transport Board, private transport operators are calling on Government to come to their rescue too.
In fact, the President of the Alliance Owners of Public Transport (AOPT) Roy Raphael cautioned that without duty-free concessions to quickly replenish their aging fleets, the privately operated side of the transport industry could soon suffer the same chronic bus shortages currently plaguing the state-run Transport Board.
Leading off debate of the $5 million supplementary in Parliament today, Minister of Transport and Works Michael Lashley reported that no fewer than 70 buses from the Transport Board’s fleet were presently off the road each day due mainly to mechanical and transmission failures.
He also said that Government was already utilizing the services of private coaches and minibuses to pick up the slack, particularly as it relates to transporting children to and from school.
However Raphael told Barbados TODAY that the private operators were experiencing some of the same challenges as the Transport Board in terms of having vehicles that in some instances were over 25 years old and urgently needed to be replaced.
“At this stage we as PSV owners are facing some challenges on some of the routes in terms of getting some of our commuters to their destination. For example only last week, we were supposed to have about 12 vehicles on the 3W bus route [Sugar Hill, St Andrew], but we were only able to supply just two vans on that route,” the AOPT president said.
“What we are saying is that if the Government gives us duty-free concessions we can promise those commuters more vans, which would work longer times. We can work up to 12 a.m. [But] as it stands right now, on most of our routes after 6 p.m. you can’t find a PSV unless they are commercial routes,” Raphael said, adding that owners were extremely disappointed to learn that no provisions for duty-free concessions were made in the Estimates.
In the absence of the desired financial relief from Government, the AOPT president revealed that the PSV industry has been replacing some their worn out vehicles with second hand vehicles from ZM taxi operators who are able to use their duty-free concessions to replace their vehicles every five years.
“We are at the mercy of the ZM operators who receive duty-free concessions after five years. So don’t be fooled because some new ZRs are on the road,” Raphael said, while complaining about the double standard.
“It is really annoying because even though everyone in Government is saying we should get duty-free, there is no indication when we are going to get one. About 85 per cent of our fleet is old vehicles and we cannot continue with those types of vehicles when we want to assist the Transport Board. The truth is that we can’t do so without duty-free concessions,” he stressed.
Back in January Lashley, said his ministry was willing to entertain the sector’s proposal on the issue of duty-free parts and vehicles.
At the time, he said the matter was raised by stakeholders and they were instructed to “build their case” to present to the ministry, which he would have to eventually be passed onto Cabinet.
“We’ve had several meetings with the sector and I have said to them that they need to put their case and document it properly to us, showing the reasons why they think they need concessions and providing evidence-based reasons.
“Once we have that and we as a ministry will look at it, we can determine if it is workable, and add any conditions we deem fit,” the minister said.
“I believe once both parties can meet midway, I believe that both parties would benefit,” he added.