Government is pressing ahead with its plan to have privately-owned public service vehicles (PSVs) fill the breach resulting from a shortage of state-run Transport Board buses.
During a meeting with PSV owners at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre last night, Chairman of the Transport Authority Ian Estwick acknowledged that many commuters were facing hardships in going about their business due to the shortage of Transport Board buses on certain routes.
Therefore, he said, Government was working to alleviate this situation by relocating PSVs to the affected routes, particularly in the under-serviced north of the island.
However, this decision is not sitting well with some of the owners and operators.
At the end of last night’s meeting, a number of them were heard openly condemning the plan, saying it was “foolishness”. Some even used expletives as they voiced strong displeasure over the pending move.
One particularly peeved operator, who did not want to be named, said he was concerned that he would lose “good business” if he were taken off the lucrative Silver Sands route.
It was a concern similar to one expressed by another Route 11 operator just after reporters were asked by the chairman to leave the meeting. He later explained that he would lose out if reassigned from Silver Sands in the middle of the tourist belt, to say, Josey Hill, which is considered in PSV terms to be a very dead route.
However, Estwick reported that not all were opposed to making the desired switch.
In fact, he expects the required changes to permits to be in place by Saturday, September 8, in time for the official re-opening of the new Constitution River Terminal.
He also anticipates that by that date, all vehicles route descriptions will be changed and that it would be communicated to the Royal Barbados Police Force, the Barbados Licensing Authority and Barbados Revenue Authority that all vehicles must now enter the terminal via the St Michael’s Row/Nursery Drive junction.
“From Saturday no vehicles will be allowed from the Constitution/Nursery Drive junction. We will be asking the Royal Barbados Police Force for their assistance in this venture to get the traffic changes by September 8,” Estwick added.
Immediately after coming to power following the May 24 general election, the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) Government decided to put the brakes on the Transport Authority Service Integration (TASI) project, which was first introduced in 2015 as a six-month pilot by the former Democratic Labour Party administration.
The TASI programme, which combined the services of Transport Board and private PSVs on some routes, sought to address issues of public transport reliability.
When the project was first launched it was supposed to bring relief to long-suffering commuters in Sturges, St Thomas; Edey Village, Christ Church; and Martin’s Bay, St John in the first instance.
But the Martin’s Bay leg was beset by problems and never got off the ground, while the project was extended in Edey Village and Sturges on a number of occasions, despite complaints from some PSV operators that it had placed them at a disadvantage.
In February last year then Minister of Transport and Works Michael Lashley said the project would have been extended, although he did not say what routes would have been included.
But the expansion never took place, and immediately upon taking office, Lashley’s replacement, Minister of Transport, Works and Maintenance Dr William Duguid, told Barbados TODAY the decision to end the programme was taken quite sometime ago.
“It was a decision of the previous board to bring it to an end and it’s only now being implemented by the current board,” Duguid explained.
Asked if TASI would be replaced by a similar programme, the minister simply said: “It’s finished.”
However, the grouping of owners and operators, the Alliance of Owners of Public Transport (AOPT), which supported the decision to end the project, said it had already presented an alternative to the authorities.
Chairman Roy Raphael had told Barbados TODAY that AOPT’s recommended Transport Implementation Project (TIP) programme already had the support of at least 20 PSV operators and was superior to the TASI project.
“In my mind the project [TASI] wasn’t carefully put in place. It was rushed and my association was not consulted and when it started it had a lot of issues. I am happy that the project is finished.
“I believe that project should now be replaced by the Transport Implementation Project that was designed to assist the Transport Board. . . . . We are only waiting to have it rolled out by the new Government,” Raphael said as the TASI programme was brought to a screeching halt along with the concessionary fares for PSVs which were servicing mainly the Edey Village and Sturges routes.
Yesterday, no mention was made by the Transport Authority Chairman of the name TIP or for that matter, TASI, but Estwick said enough for all to conclude that Government was embarking on the promised alternative to the TASI programme.
In the meantime, police Public Relations Officer Acting Inspector Rodney Inniss is concerned about the high number of traffic offences involving PSVs.
“At this stage, we have 2,500 traffic cases involving public service vehicles,” he told those in attendance at yesterday’s meeting.
“I am on record as saying that public service vehicles represent less than one per cent of all vehicles on our roads, yet they account for more than 50 per cent of all traffic offences [and] that speaks for itself. We are looking for an improvement for that.”
He also promised stepped up enforcement in the new River terminal in the wake of a stabbing incident last week involving three PSV workers.
“We are going to provide law enforcement through the operational hours. You can expect that the police will be there during those times. We have identified a team of police officers to be at that Constitution River Terminal to provide that necessary support to those Transport Authority operators,” Inniss said.
The police spokesman also used the occasion to remind the owners and operators of laws affecting the operations of PSVs, including no drinking of alcoholic beverages, no smoking, no littering, no soliciting of passengers and no use of foul language.