The Alliance Owners of Public Transport (AOPT) says while the announced hike in bus fares is welcomed, it will take more than that to eradicate the rat race culture that has earned minibus and ZR workers a bad rap over the years.
In fact, AOPT president Roy Raphael contends that unless the fare hike is accompanied by additional measures by both Government and Public Service Vehicle (PSV) owners, the fierce competition that sometimes leads to lawlessness on the roads may only intensify.
He said factors such as a possible increase in daily lease rates for vans, as well as the continued overcrowding of routes need to be taken into consideration.
“It has a lot to do with route rationalization, because if you still have 200 vans on the Silver Sands route and let’s say you raise bus fares to $3.50, you are still going to be at square one. Let’s remember that owners’ fees are relative. So, if bus fares increase, owners are not going to accept the same amount of money as if it was still at $2; it just would not make economic sense,” Raphael said, noting that owners would also need to come together to determine the percentage increase.
He also pointed to the possibility of greed, contending that some operators if unchecked, will fall back on their instinct to maximize profits.
During the Estimates Debate in Parliament yesterday, Minister of Transport Dr William Duguid announced that commuters may soon have to pay as much as $4 for bus fare on public and private transport, as he contended that the current $2 fare charged by the Transport Board and PSVs is inadequate.
“We haven’t made the decision if it will go up by a $1.50 or if it will go up by $2; we don’t know now. But, certainly, all of that has to be assessed to make a decision as to where bus fares will go,” said the Minister, who made it clear that a higher quality of service from private owners would be expected with the increased fares.
Raphael said this morning that his organization wholeheartedly agrees the sector must clean up its act and show itself worthy of the increase. He told Barbados TODAY that, to this end, the AOPT has made several recommendations to the Ministry of Transport and Works, which include the amalgamation of the five categories of PSV licences into two. He argued that this would prevent the bad apples from jumping to another area of the sector whenever their licence in one area is revoked.
“It’s a case now where even if one’s licence was revoked, a fella could still go and drive a maxi taxi. So, we are going to ask Government to introduce two classes of licences for PSVs. One would be heavy-duty, which means you can drive from a Transport Board bus and all classes below, while with the ZR licence, a person can drive that class of vehicle down to maxi taxi,” he explained.
In the meantime, Raphael told Barbados TODAY, AOPT is already on course to fulfil some of the items on Minister Duguid’s wish list, including a move towards a cashless system.
He also noted there are recent positive indicators that the sector is capable of change.
“I must say that while we saw an increase in complaints during the month of December , we saw a sharp decline last month in the complaints from passengers. So, it is some level of improvement and we will continue to monitor it,” he said.