Students who travel to and from school on privately owned public service vehicles (PSVs) may have to start paying the full $2.00 bus fare from April 1.
President of the Alliance Owners of Public Transport (AOPT) Roy Raphael told Barbados TODAY this was the plan in the absence of duty-free concessions on imported vehicles and spare parts.
Raphael said the owners were hoping the Freundel Stuart administration would have settled the longstanding concession issue before the dissolution of Parliament the week.
However, with the House having been dissolved without considering the PSV operators’ demands, AOPT said the owners may have to revisit the fare structure for students, who now pay $1.50 on the PSVs, but who travel free of cost on state-run Transport Board buses.
“I believe it is something we may have to sit down and visit again . . . because the law states that bus fare is $2.00. What we do as owners is that we decided we are going to charge school children $1.50 to take them to school,” Raphael said.
He explained that maintenance costs were rising and a new requirement for bi-annual vehicle inspections added to their operational expenses, while suggesting that the full fare from school children was needed to help recoup some of the losses.
The owners and operators have also complained in the past that the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) cut their net earnings by 50 per cent, from a net return of 13 cents on every $2 fare to under seven cents.
“From April 1 school children could be paying $2.00 to ride on our PSVs,” the AOPT head emphasized.
Not for the first time, private transport operators last Friday called on Government to come to their rescue in the same way it approved $5 million to bail out the cash-strapped Transport Board, which is estimated to have accumulated losses of $250 million over the past seven years.
In fact, Raphael had 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 Transport Board.
Leading off debate on the $5 million supplementary in Parliament, Minister of Transport and Works Michael Lashley had reported that no fewer than 70 buses from the Transport Board fleet were off the road each day due mainly to mechanical and transmission failures.
He also said Government was already utilizing the services of private coaches and minibuses to pick up the slack, particularly as it related to transporting children to and from school.
However, Raphael told Barbados TODAY in response that the private operators were experiencing some of the same challenges facing the Transport Board, with some of the PSVs being over 25 years old and in urgent need of replacement.
The request for duty-free concessions, as well as a fare increase, dates back to at least 2014.
A joint committee representing the public service vehicle owners and operators had written to Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler in June last year demanding that bus fares be raised to $3.00 and again calling for concessions.
It was their third letter to the minister in three years seeking some form of reprieve, and their response to the austere budgetary measures announced by Sinckler in May 2017, which included 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 NSRL from two per cent to ten per cent.
President of the Association of Public Transport Operators (APTO) Morris Lee had told Barbados TODAY at the time the operators simply could not afford to absorb the additional costs, and were worried about the future of the sector.
“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 had said.
The fledgling United Progressive Party is the only one of the parties due to contest this year’s general election to have indicated a commitment to granting duty-free concessions to the private operators, who have already warned that their approximately 7,000 votes would not be given away cheaply this time around, with Lee complaining that neither the incumbent Democratic Labour Party nor the main Opposition Barbados Labour Party had delivered on the promises made in the past.