With more deep cost-cutting measures on the cards early this year, and the country awaiting the third phase of the economic recovery plan, the state-run Transport Board says it has no plans to start charging school children to ride on its buses.
This revelation came from the chairman of the Transport Board, Gregory Nicholls, who told Barbados TODAY that plans for the resurgence of the cash-strapped organisation have been submitted to Cabinet but they do not include a revocation of the 2008 signature Democratic Labour Party (DLP) measure.
The chairman was tight-lipped on the submitted proposals but noted that Government-funded fares significantly bolstered the authority.
Nicholls made it clear that as long as Government remained committed to footing the bill, his organisation was more than happy to continue to provide the service.
“Schoolchildren and pensioners make up 45 per cent of our revenue. So we are not going to make such a recommendation because we get revenue from it and it is not a concern for the Transport Board right now. The Transport Board takes the lead from the Government of Barbados and that is our policy.
“Right now school children are free at the point of entry but every month the Ministry of Education pays the Transport Board for each and every child that uses the buses. So as long as the Government feels that it will continue to maintain the policy then we would be guided,” said Nicholls.
It was last September that Prime Minister Mia Mottley hinted that the days of $2 bus fares were numbered but made it clear that any increase would not go as high as $5 as a previous International Monetary Fund (IMF) report had suggested. She gave the assurance that some groups would not be affected by the pending increase, while a decision was yet to be taken as it related to schoolchildren.
“For the pensioners, we definitely will not be changing that. For the schoolchildren, there are two schools of thought and we have not made a decision on it. There are those who say leave it and there are those who say means-test it and allow those who really need it to get it,” said Mottley.
“Because of the scale of the depth of the problem at the Transport Board, I am not prepared to commit to a position on that without the evidence and without the relevant sides placing all of the data before us, but for the elderly persons without a doubt and for the police, without a doubt, there will be no change,” she added at the time.
However, today while Nicholls was not prepared to guess Government’s leanings in relation to children riding free on the buses, he noted that there was much more to consider than just the bottom line.
“It is about keeping the people of Barbados happy while we share the burden. People in the lower socio-economic groupings catch our buses and there is already a disproportionate burden on the people at the lower end. The provision of buses is not only a social good but it is also an economic safety net because people have to traverse this country for various reasons. This transport network is subsidized to some extent by Government but it is really for the people who can’t afford it,” he said.