They may not have the blessing of the Michael Lashley-led Ministry of Transport and Works, but operators of privately run public service vehicles (PSVs) who have gone ahead and imposed an additional 50 cents charge for school children to ride in their buses, say it has been smooth sailing so far.
The move officially took effect on Tuesday as the Trinity school term opened, with students now being made to pay the full adult fare of $2 instead of $1.50 that was previously charged.
Earlier tonight a seemingly disappointed Lashley told Barbados TODAY while the fare rise had been discussed with his ministry, there was no conclusion to those talks which formed part of a wider discussion on duty-free concessions for the private operators.
He also made it clear that operators who were working with Government under the Transport Authority Service Integration (TASI) project – which is currently active along the Sturges/Edey Village route – continued to charge students the $1.50 bus fare.
Lashley, who is currently recovering from a throat infection, also said he would seek a meeting shortly with the operators to iron out the current differences.
Meantime, President of the Alliance of Owners of Public Transport (APTO) Roy Raphael reported that commuters were taking the increase in good stride. ,
Raphael had served notice of the proposed hike more than a month ago, while complaining about the absence of duty-free concessions from Government on imported vehicles and rising costs made worse by the recent increase in the National Social Responsibility Levy, which rose from two per cent to ten per cent last July.
In fact, Raphael said with the introduction of the flat $2 rate, PSV operators were now carrying more students as of yesterday.
“I spoke to our route representative this morning and I was told that we have seen as increase of ridership as it relates to school children on our buses, especially on some of the longer routes like Speightstown and St Joseph,” Raphael said, while explaining that prior to today some drivers were reluctant to transport students.
“We had cases where some drivers won’t pick school children because they only paid $1.50, but since the $2 is now across the board it makes it easy for everyone to get into our transportation and get to their destination,” the APTO head said, adding, “I don’t want any of our operators to leave school children at the bus stop”.
When Barbados TODAY visited the River Bus Terminal this afternoon, Marvon Joseph, who operates on the Ivy/Howell Road bus route, was pleased as punch.
“The $2 bus fare for school children is great. It is helping out PSV workers a lot,” he said, explaining that “when bus fare is $2 that is fair for everyone because it is on one level.
“So far, honestly, I have not heard the school children complain and everybody is paying their $2. School children wear North Face and Jordans, which are expensive gear, so I feel they should be able to pay $2,” he added, while suggesting that the increase was long overdue.
“I feel that the increase should have been implemented ever since. I also feel that Government should stop allowing school children onboard [the state run Transport Board buses] free as well. It would help them to have more money to pay workers,” he suggested.
Another PSV driver, who gave his name as Romell, revealed that at first the 50 cents increase did not sit well with some students who were apparently caught off guard. However, he reported that “from today we didn’t have to say anything because yesterday some of the other operators started to drill in the $2.
“It seems like they [Government] don’t want the school kids to take the vans. It appears as though they would rather them take the Transport Board buses,” Romell added, while pointing out that with or without the students they would still be able to charge $2.
However, at least one operator suggested that the hike would not really benefit him. In the current circumstances, Stephen Brathwaite told Barbados TODAY, he would have preferred a fare rise for adults.
“It’s not a here or there for me. It doesn’t matter if the school child pays $1.50 or $2, it will not profit me. If I charge $2 I will not get any more money, it will be the same thing. I would rather if adults pay more money than the students,” he said.
However, Renaldo Nicholls, a third form student of The Lester Vaughan School told Barbados TODAY that “having to pay the $2 instead of just $1.50, as small as it may seem, is cutting down on my lunch money”.
Also crying out against the increase was parent Dwayne Knight, who said he was left with no choice but to pay the hike since the Transport Board’s bus service was unreliable.
“It will hurt my pocket a bit because my daughter and I normally take the route taxis, and it is strange because Transport Board is free, but not reliable. So at the end of the day I have to pay for her to get to school early.
“I would prefer if it was still $1.50 though, but I don’t know the challenges of the PSV operators.”
Another parent, who requested anonymity, echoed those sentiments.
“Obviously it is an added expense for me because my son and I we have to take two buses to get him to school and for me to get to work and to get home as well, so that is $16 a day in bus fare.
“I understand that the PSV operators want more money, but I know it is hard on me and it is not like the Transport Board is reliable, so I have to travel on vans,” the parent told Barbados TODAY.