Opposition Leader Joseph Atherley stopped just short today of calling for privatization of the public transport system, suggesting that more of the transportation services should be in private hands while Government maintains the “social service”.
In his contribution to the debate on the amendments to the Road Traffic Act, Atherley argued that private sector vehicle operators were important to the transportation sector here and should be made to feel that way.
Therefore, he recommended they be offered “meaningful concessions” so they could carry more of the transportation load, thus helping Government to reduce its spending on the Transport Board.
“I am simply saying the state needs to rid itself of the burden of this service to the extent that it does. Don’t get me wrong, the state should provide the social service – provide for pensioners, provide for the schools – but get out of the business to the extent that it can provide universally for public transport in Barbados and avoid that cost of acquisition, maintenance, energy and insurance and facilitate the private sector,” Atherley told his parliamentary colleagues during debate on the Road Traffic Act.
Atherley, who won his seat in the May 24 general election on a Barbados Labour Party ticket before crossing the floor one week later, said the private sector transportation providers should be treated no differently from the tourism and manufacturing sectors, which have benefited from duty-free and tax concessions over the years.
The Mia Mottley-led administration has already indicated it was seriously considering the acquisition of electric vehicles as an option to address the shortage of vehicles at the state-run Transport Board and would likely seek help from the Inter-American Development Bank and the European Union.
However, Atherley argued that at a time when Government was struggling with a high debt and low finances it should take “a very serious look at its attempts to provide for public transport in Barbados”.
“We continue to lament the cost of acquisition of new buses . . . . Whether new brand buses or used buses we are now looking to do that, but that is a burden on the taxpayers of Barbados to acquire these new buses to the extent that they are needed. There is the cost of maintenance, [which is] quite high, there is the cost of insurance, there is the cost of energy – all of these are costs which have to be borne for the state in the attempt to provide for public service transport in Barbados,” the Opposition Leader said.
“I am saying all of that simply to suggest maybe it might be more prudent if we would look to put more of the responsibility for providing public transport on the private providers of transport in a context where we meaningfully create an environment for them in which there is ease for acquiring buses, and I mean bigger buses,” he added.
He also called for facilities to be set up to allow entrepreneurs in the auto mechanic industry to “operate in auto industrial park situations” in order to encourage investment and development of entrepreneurship.
Atherley also expressed concern about the length of time some private sector drivers were spending behind the wheels.
“I know some of these guys are on the road very early – four o’clock and five o’clock in the morning . . . and then you are on the road hustling all morning, all afternoon, all evening, all night until about ten or 11 in the night,” he said, adding that they were putting themselves, the passengers and other drivers at risk.
“I suggest very urgently to the honourable minister that we put some attention there and regulate for how many hours per day a man or woman may get behind the wheel of the public service vehicle that is providing private transport. It applies to other people who chauffeur, pilot or drive people and I think that we need to put some focus there before the worse occurs,” Atherley pleaded.
He also suggested that some urgency be given to addressing the “increasing frequency” of drivers running stoplights, describing the practice as a “criminal activity” that Barbadians have been “picking up”.
Atherley also called on the ministry to quickly tackle the issue of noise pollution associated with motorcycles, which he described as a bother. (MM)