Amid mounting speculation that Prime Minister Mia Mottley will announce a hike in bus fares in her administration’s first Budget, a consumer rights advocate is urging against the move, especially for privately-owned route taxis and minibuses.
According to the Director General of the Barbados Consumers Research Organization (BARCRO), Malcolm Gibbs-Taitt, it would be unfair to require taxpayers to pay for a service for which they are already funding a
significant portion of its overheads, particularly bus terminals and stops.
“It is my view that bus fares should not be increased at this time. A lot of people do not seem to understand that in running a bus service, there are a number of factors that one has to look at. There are things as simple as the planting of bus stops, putting up bus sheds and more importantly having bus terminals. To the best of my knowledge, I have never known a private concessionaire to actually put down a bus stop let alone a bus terminal. Government and its agencies do those things and those things are what our tax dollars go to,” Gibbs-Taitt told Barbados TODAY.
Last month, Minister of Transport Dr William Duguid hinted that bus fares could soon double. Contending that the current fare of $2 charged by the Transport Board and public service vehicles (PSVs) is inadequate, Duguid told the House during the Estimates Debate that an increase was coming, but could not yet determine by how much.
Duguid argued that while bus fares have not moved in the last two decades, the price of doing business had increased across the board.
The news was welcomed by the two major PSV associations, who for years have pressed for a fare hike, charging that it was impractical for them to survive on a $2 per trip fare, especially since Government subsidises the state-owned Transport Board.
But Gibbs-Taitt contends that current figures do not show an ailing public service vehicle industry, which has grown from 500 minibuses and ZRs to 800 in the last five years.
Gibbs-Taitt contended: “I have never heard of many private bus concessionaires thinking of depleting their stock because it is too expensive for them to run them. So, it tells me that they are reasonably happy with the monies that they are making.”
He also urged Government to bear in mind that it was only last year that public servants had received their first pay increase in a decade, and that the working class was in no position to bear additional burdens.
He continued: “People did not receive wages and salary increase for a full ten years. I therefore cannot bring myself to even suggest that any increase in bus fare can be a good thing at this time. I understand that the economic state of the country is not good but if you increase bus fares then poor people simply cannot afford it.”