As we went to press came news of the departure of the chairman of the Transport Board, as yet another pothole opened up on the rocky road to stable, reliable and affordable public transport.
But ever since the 75 per cent increase in bus fare from $2 to $3.50 two weeks ago, followed by the Prime Minister’s direct hand in setting discounts and declaring a future Transport Board as a manager and not operator, we cannot help but wonder how much longer will public policy on transport be set by those who do not use it?
Over the past two weeks, the Transport Authority has sought to address the challenges of people living in rural districts by asking route taxi and minibus operators to move their vehicles from overcrowded routes like Silver Sands and work on some new rural routes.
According to reports, the response to this venture by the route taxi operators has not been encouraging thus far. But they should give it a try because they should see the service they provide as a public good and not a mere profit-making venture. Besides, how much money can an operator make when there are fifty vans sharing the same route?
The number of Transport Board buses is said to be at its lowest ever, hovering at just under 50 out of a previous total of over 200. Many are presently undergoing repairs, but what we have not been told is the extent of the repairs the buses need, the costs associated with it, and whether the outstanding bills with contractors who did the repair work have finally been settled.
We also hope a properly scheduled preventative maintenance programme will be put in place for all the buses in the fleet following the current debacle.
Ideally, the proposal to put some minibuses and route taxis into the Transport Board fleet with Transport Board livery would help address the shortfall.
In between the back-and-forth between the Transport Authority, the Transport Board and the groups representing the minibus and route taxi operators, there is one major body we seem to have forgotten in this debate: who is representing the commuters, those who are suffering the most in this melee?
We think that the Travel Smart cards, which commuters can buy in varying amounts for discounts on the fare are a good idea, but they should be valid on all forms of public transport, especially given the fact that sometimes the only transport available on certain routes at a given time might very well be a minibus or ZR van.
The Transport Augmentation Programme the Transport Authority has just announced a reboot of the TASI experiment the last Government introduced in 2016 covering Sturges and Edey Village. But what were the results of that experiment? Did it achieve its objectives of moving people more efficiently on those routes, and how has the bus service improved, worsened or reverted to previous levels since its discontinuation?
If it has not been done before, surveys should be carried out with the travelling public before coming up with bus routes, and more importantly, issuing permits to private operators.
These surveys should determine how many people actually rely on public transport in those areas; what their present service is like and any improvements they would like to see; how many businesses, schools, churches and other public places are located along these routes and how many people from these institutions use buses to get there and back.
In engaging with the commuters, we should find out how many hours they miss from work or school having to wait for a bus to get there, and how late they arrive home in the evening, and based on the results, allocate more buses to those routes at the times indicated.
There has long been talk about having a dedicated school bus service, but have school boards, principals and Parent Teacher Associations been engaged in any discussions on it? Naturally, some schools might need more buses than others, especially those in more distant parishes and with bigger student rolls.
On the day the new bus fares were introduced, a few ministers ventured into the bus terminals to view the situation first hand. While this was commendable and to our knowledge unprecedented, a one-off visit cannot address all the grievances commuters have.
To truly get a feel of what commuters experience daily, all the parties in public transport, both Government and the owners, should consider putting down their cars for a week and use the bus service from wherever they live to get to and from their offices and to send and collect their children to and from school.
It is also time for the consumer rights groups, who have become rather silent recently, to let their voices be heard again, because if we want to increase our productivity, we need to get to our workplaces safely and at a proper time, and that can only be accomplished with an efficient transport system.