More than two dollars but less than five dollars.
That appears to be the position of private operators of minbuses and route taxis ahead of talks with the Government on a proposed bus fare hike.
This as the future of public transport came under the microscope on Sunday as officials identified the challenges facing the sector and possible solutions on radio.
While PSV owners have been very vocal in demanding a fare increase especially since the June 11 announcement of the abolition of road tax and introduction of a fuel levy, the lawyer for the Alliance Owners of Public Transport (AOPT), Letitia Bourne, opted not say what would be an ideal bus fare for PSV operators at this point.
However, she insisted that it needed to be more than the current $2.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley has already indicated that bus fare would not be increased to $5, while making it clear that her administration would “sensibly” review the current fare structure.
Mottley has also indicated that pensioners and police officers would continue to ride for free on Transport Board buses in spite of any fare hike.
Private Public Sector Vehicle (PSV) operators identified low earnings and high cost of living as one of the major challenges facing the sector as they appeared on Voice of Barbados’ Down to Brasstacks Sunday talkshow.
But the operators agreed with critics that the behaviour of PSV operators needed to be addressed.
Bourne argued that unruly behaviour had to be stamped out, adding that it was time for PSV operators to be properly trained.
She also made it clear that there was need for greater use of technology in the public transport system.
“So we need to have GPS systems with camera and panic buttons when the children start to fight on the vans,” said Bourne, adding that there was also need for a smart card system to know “who is travelling on the buses with us”.
The PSV grouping is to embark on an education campaign as well as providing training opportunities for PSV operators in several areas including health and safety and customer service, she said.
“So there is a lot of work to be done. It can be done but we cannot do it alone. Indeed, the integration or working together will see us in good stead,” she added, while acknowledging that there were some “elements” that would have to be weeded out.
Noting that the challenges facing the PSV sector were numerous, Bourne said one of the most pressing was the poor-quality service and low pay.
Member of the Association of Public Transport Operators (APTO) Ian Walcott said he was pleased the current administration was examining the possibility of a fare increase.
If PSV operators could earn a little bit more then their behaviour on the island’s roadways would be different, he argued.
He said that the industry was only able to attract “what people may say are people from the bottom of the barrel” because of what PSV owners could afford to pay them.
At present, some PSV operators are paid a flat salary while others are given a percentage out of every dollar they earn during the day, with many of them working well over eight hours.
“It is the pay. We cannot afford to pay these men for the hours they are working. That is the reality of it. Money has a great deal to do with it,” said Walcott, as he likened the hiring process to that of choosing the best of the “old onions” from a basket.
Walcott also stayed clear of saying what an ideal bus fare would be for PSV operators, but agreed it needed to be more than the current $2.
Director of Transport at the Transport Authority Alex Linton pointed out that as officials work to improve the transport system, the aim was to ultimately have the PSV operators work in collaboration with the Transport Board.
He said the Transport Authority Service Integration (TASI) project, first mooted in 2015 as a six-month pilot to address issues of public transport reliability, proved that there was scope for public-private sector partnership.
That programme came to a screeching halt in June, within days of the general election.
Chairman of the Transport Authority Ian Estwick said one of the challenges facing the transport sector was a shortage of Transport Board buses. He also identified the need for the various pieces of legislation governing the sector to better complement each other
“Basically, we need to strengthen the partnership between the public, the operators and ourselves,” said Estwick, who stayed clear of the discussion of a bus fare increase.
APTO President Morris Lee suggested the name of the Transport Board needed to change, adding that it was time it was made into a more commercialized entity through a public-private partnership where residents also had a shareholding interest and the new entity would also sell bus parts and import all of the island’s diesel fuel.
“I am saying the Transport Board should evolve into an aggressive commercial entity, not just focused on bus fares but tapping into the resources that are being ignored on a daily basis,” said Lee.