It appears that the impact of the recent 75 per cent bus fare hike has not only taken a toll on the transport sector, but vendors at the Cheapside Market and the Bridgetown Fish Market say they too are feeling the pinch.
During a walkthrough of the facilities by the Opposition team, vendors complained that foot traffic through the markets has drastically fallen since bus fares went up from $2.00 to $3.50 last month.
During the tour vendors explained that while business was on a downward trajectory since last Christmas season, the falloff has been certainly more pronounced in the last two months.
“Sales were slow for a few months, but it got worse when the bus fare went up. People just not passing through like they used to before and we are really feeling the squeeze. It is tough going but I am not giving up and I am going to keep holding on as long as God gives me strength,” said Gloria Blenman, who was one of three vendors who expressed similar sentiments.
However, following the walkthrough, Leader of the Opposition Bishop Joseph Atherley told reporters that the issue was one that could not be ignored and in fact called for more analysis, as he believes that the ripple effect of the hike in public transportation cost may run deeper still.
“We heard it repeatedly in several instances. People are complaining that business has fallen off… and people repeatedly cited the bus fare prices. People are not paying bus fare to come and buy products and the cost of bus fares is adding to the people’s already high cost of living. All this is preventing persons from coming to buy in the market. So that bus fare thing runs a lot deeper than people in Barbados would have imagined,” said Atherley.
Referencing the passing grade from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for meeting the targets in the first phase of the Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation (BERT) programme, Atherley argued that the bus fare fallout was one example of the pain behind the gains under the IMF programme.
“It is alright to talk about meeting your targets in terms of reducing your debt in a statistical way to satisfy the IMF, it is one thing to talk about increasing your foreign reserves, but this is where the rubber meets the road and the pain down here is real. We came here today with an open mind to hear what people had to say so that we can form and shape policy to respond to people’s needs and from what we have heard, this bus fare thing is a killer,” he said.
The Opposition Leader noted that even though the vendors in the markets are engaged in private enterprise, Government owed it to them to assist, as it has done for larger corporations, through tax breaks and other incentives.
“There are some who would suggest that these people are running their own operations, they are private operators and therefore they are responsible for their own promotion and marketing. While that point can be made, we live in a Barbados where Governments have repeatedly found it necessary to subsidize the marketing and promotional efforts of big companies. Additionally, all types of tax concessions have been given to big businesses for decades at a time,” said Atherley.
He further stressed “If we are going to talk about development in genuine terms then we must talk about developing this level of the economy, where vending is a critical part. If you are going to talk about democracy, then you have to democratize vending. This is more than a philosophy or ideology, this is practicality. The economy exists in real terms and productive terms at this level as well.”