In the clearest indication yet that Barbadians could face a rise in bus fares and likely more private operators in mass transit, Government has slashed its subsidy to the Transport Board by one-third – even as the state bus company plans a new electric fleet to replace its dwindled and aging stock.
In the Estimates of Government’s spending and revenue targets for the next financial year, laid in Parliament on Tuesday, the cash-strapped bus company is to get $15.8 million, cut by $7.5 million from the 2018/2019 fiscal year.
The subvention to the Transport Board is “to assist with offsetting the operational cost”. The cut is in keeping with the mandate to cut transfers to state-owned enterprises under the IMF-backed austerity plan known as BERT.
While not indicating an imminent fare hike, Prime Minister Mia Mottley has already said the $2 fare for any journey on public transport would inevitably end – even as she rejected notions of a $5 bus fare.
Mottley had given the assurance that pensioners and police officers would continue to ride free on Transport Board buses.
“Will we have to sensibly review what the Transport Board and the minibus and ZR drivers get? Yes, we would,” she said during a joint media conference with the International Monetary Fund last year.
Mottley said: “We are sensitive to people’s plight and that is why there will not be a $5 bus fare in Barbados. But we have to increase the bus fare from the $2. And the Government will continue to maintain its role to support those who cannot carry that cost as we have always done.”
The 2019/2020 Estimates also made provision for a $1.58 million grant to the state regulator, the Transport Authority, for spending on improvement to public transport.
But this is also a roughly one-third reduction from the $2.12 million received in the previous fiscal year which ends on March 31.
At the same time, the Transport Board is to get $400,000 for capital works at Roebuck Street, Mangrove, Fairchild Street, Speightstown and Princess Alice bus terminals and depots – the same amount approved last year.
Overall, the Ministry of Transport, Works and Maintenance is earmarked for $120.66 million for the new financial year, which begins on April 1, an increase of about $16 million for the last financial year.
The Transport Board, which is currently experiencing a severe fleet shortage, is in the process of introducing between 120 and 180 electric buses over the next 18 months.
At the same time, Williams Industries is to embark on a pilot project with the state bus company to retrofit some of its redundant buses into electric-powered vehicles.