Government’s 75 per cent bus fare hike has been strongly rebuked by Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Mia Mottley announced that from April 15, bus fares would be increased from $2 to $3.50.
However, while Atherley admitted that an argument could be made for bus fares to be increased, he said $3.50 was too much to ask Barbadians to pay, especially at a time they could ill afford to do so.
“One could argue a case easily for increased bus fares, but one could not comfortably count on such an increase in the current context of unemployment, rising costs of food and other essentials, increasing levels of taxation, water and sewage charges,” Atherley charged during his reply to the Budget in Parliament this afternoon.
“To compare the change in cost of bus fare to the change in cost of a Coke is to appear to trivialize the pain of those you seek to serve. Bus fare is a necessity for most people in this country…”
He further contended that the increase was not enough to put a big enough dent in Government’s annual bill of $45 million which is used to subsidise the Transport Board.
“This increase in bus fares cannot fully close the $45 million gap. I know the Minister of Transport would easily suggest this will help, but it doesn’t go far enough in helping us to fill that big gap and address that problem…This bus fare will mean some pain but it doesn’t get us where we want to get in terms of addressing that big cost gap at the Transport Board,” he contended.
“The minister would have to say that, but from my side it would be my responsibility to ask if and to what extent the gap will further be filled by layoffs at the Transport Board.
“If you have a $65 million annual bill and you are making $20 million annually from bus fares and you raise the bus fares so much that you make another $15 million or so for the year you are still short. There is a significant gap still to be filled,” Atherley pointed out.
He queried whether more layoffs would be coming to the state owned enterprise in an effort to cut costs.
The Opposition Leader also enquired whether Government was paving the way for a higher fare for its investor or investors in the revenue-sharing electric buses project.
“We anticipate that we will have to satisfy the investment interest of those who seek to enter into revenue-sharing investments,” Atherley said.
“Are we attempting to save the sector and service, or are we attempting to save the entity we call the Transport Board? We need to have a service and we need to have a sector.” [email protected]