Privately-owned Public Service Vehicle (PSV) operators are following Government’s lead and looking at a discount system for commuters but they remain concerned that some measures, including the fare hike, may cause them to lose customers.
In fact, Chairman of the Alliance Owners of Public Transport (AOPT) Roy Raphael told Barbados TODAY that operators were expecting an immediate fall off in business when the increase in bus fare takes effect on April 15, although he acknowledged that the sector had received 50 cents more than it initially requested.
They fear that while their wish for a fare hike has been granted, it may turn out to be a cost to them when the fares go from $2 to $3.50 next month.
“We will see a great fallout in the first place. By the 15th of April, we expect to have a fallout from the number of passengers travelling on our buses . . . . because of the discount,” he said.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Mia Mottley announced that frequent travellers on Transport Board buses would pay less for their trips, and the Ministry of Transport would be meeting with PSV operators to see how they too could put systems in place for high-volume users.
She explained that the ministry would issue multi-trip tickets in ten, 14, 20 and 28-trip tickets, with discounts ranging from 30-50 cents.
Mottley also pointed out that the Transport Augmentation Programme (TAP) has committed 40 PSVs to work on Transport Board routes.
Raphael told Barbados TODAY PSV operators welcomed the TAP and were willing to meet with the ministry on the matter of implementing a discount system on PSVs, adding that it was something that was already discussed among the members.
“There is no way we can survive as owners and operators of PSVs under the conditions in which the bus fare was given. The $3.50 we welcome, but I believe for us to really capitalize on it we have to roll out a few initiatives that will see more people catching our buses,” said Raphael.
“Long before the Prime Minister talked about that we felt we had to meet. Actually, we have a cashless system that we are going to be rolling out very shortly, where you will buy a ticket and a discount will be given to you. We have already started to look at it – a PSV discount card – we are going to roll out that probably in the next two to three weeks when we will have our first bus out there with the cashless system,” he explained.
He said PSV operators also feared they would lose passengers because of government’s decision to have more cross-country routes for Transport Board buses that would eliminate the need for commuters to go to Bridgetown, from where the bulk of PSV buses operate.
“For example, those people working in Warrens (St Michael) and Six Roads (St Philip) will not want to go into Bridgetown so that will be a fall-off for us. We wont be able to access those commuters,” he explained.
He is also of the view that the behaviour of some PSV operators would cause the travelling public to gravitate more towards the Transport Board buses.
However, pointing out that the AOPT was closer to implementing a command centre to monitor the behaviour of PSV operators and root out the bad apples, Raphael issued a stern warning that the days of bad behaviour of operators were numbered.
“If you are able to improve your customer relations you will get more people travelling on your bus, but you can’t continue with the loud playing of music or the use of alcohol. Those days are numbered,” he warned.
Stressing that it simply cannot be business as usual for PSV operators, he also pointed out that commuters would have to play a greater role in helping delinquent PSV operators to clean up their act, while explaining that many of the court cases against PSV operators involved passengers catching the mini-bus or ZR van at a location other than a bus stop.
“The driver and conductor are not to be blamed solely because sometimes the passengers deliberately [stop them away from a bus stop],” he said.
“We would like the support of the passengers, the travelling public and everybody to make things right. It cannot be a one-way situation,” he added.
He said when the PSV operators meet with the Ministry of Transport officials in the coming days, they would also be discussing outstanding issues including the lack of access to duty-free concessions and high insurance costs.