A day after bus fare soared by 75 per cent, the Prime Minister has intervened amid growing disquiet among commuters who have been demanding better service to match the increased fare.
She has summoned all major players in public transport to an urgent meeting tomorrow morning on the current state of the system.
This meeting is set to take place in her office at Government Headquarters on Bay Street at 11 a.m., according to a Governent statement. Officials of the Transport Authority, the Transport Board and the Ministry of Transport and representatives of the Public Service Vehicle operators’ (PSV) bodies are expected to be in attendance.
The Prime Minister’s Press Secretary Roy Morris said in a statement: “There is no doubt that the gap between the expectations of commuters and what is being delivered by both public and private sector operations is too great for business as usual to prevail. It would not be a misrepresentation to describe what now obtains as being in crisis or near crisis.
“However, the Prime Minister has made it clear that she is determined to ensure there are short-term solutions put in place while the country awaits the arrival of new buses.”
“And while the Prime Minister has been out of the island over the past week, she has so continued to keep a very close watch on the situation, and tomorrow’s meeting is to ensure that all players understand that the best interest of commuters must always be at the forefront of decision-making and actions taken.”
The meeting comes as the private owners appear to lose one of their most lucrative customers – school children, who have been riding free on public buses for a decade.
With the fare increase from $2 to $3.50, the private PSVs ended the $1 student fare but are now reeling as students seem to be taking advantage of the free rides on the publicly-owned Transport Board buses, largely because their parents cannot afford the full $3.50 fare on the PSVs.
As they returned to school today following the two-week Easter vacation break, some children across the island spent hours at bus stops and in terminals, waiting for a bus to take them to their various schools.
The students contended that they could not do any better since their parents could not afford to give them to $3.50 to catch a bus.
Minibus and van drivers told Barbados TODAY that it was clear the increase in bus fare was affecting school children who indicated that they had to wait on the bus.
However, some drivers said they were concerned that some children would get to school late, while a few may not even get there, since the Transport Board could not provide the buses to meet the demand.
“I believe we should have to carry all school children at $2 because that extra $1.50 running them. We as ZR men should do ourselves a favour and carry the school children at $2. Today is the first day and I ain’t get no school children on my van.
“There are no Transport Board buses but the children still waiting for the buses. And some of them want to get to school, but can’t because they can’t pay the van so they got to wait on that bus,” one driver at the River Terminal told Barbados TODAY.
Another driver at that terminal admitted that because he has children and grandchildren, he could not bring himself to take $3.50 from children, particularly those at primary school.
“It is hurtful to take $3.50 from a primary school child. And let me tell you, this is the second day of the increase in bus fare thing and we ain’t getting the volume of people we accustomed to, even in areas where Transport Board buses don’t run. But on a serious note, I don’t know how to take $3.50 from a seven or nine-year-old,” the driver said.
“School children now under pressure. You mean you give your child $10 to carry school and them at the bus stop waiting on a bus that ain’t coming and a minivan come and them got to put $3.50 in that minivan man hand, and a next $3.50 on evenings to come home?
“So what would they get for lunch money? And don’t tell me that the authorities don’t know this. Them want we to rob the poor school children. I believe bus fare should have been raised, but not by 75 per cent,” a conductor commented.
However, another conductor argued that she found no difficulty taking $3.50 from school children since she believes that they have more money than adults.
“I ain’t see many of them this morning though. A bus went to Parkinson this morning and it was crammed. I waiting to see now what happens tomorrow,” she said.