After an initial fall off in ridership, Barbadians appear to have come to terms with the 75 per cent increase in bus fares, as one of the island’s public service vehicle associations reports that numbers are on the rise.
The president of the Alliance Owners of Public Transport (AOPT), Roy Raphael, told Barbados TODAY that following the slump in ridership numbers that came with the April 15 move to raise bus fares from $2.00 to $3.50, Barbadians are realizing that public transport is still one of the more convenient and cheaper forms of commute.
“It has not quite returned to normal, but we are seeing an increase in ridership based on what we had when it first started. When it first started people were looking for alternatives for how they can get around paying the $3.50. However, recently we have begun to see those numbers rise again and we believe that by the end of the year they should return to normal,” Raphael said.
The AOPT president explained that in addition to the realization that public transport remained a viable option despite the increase, a number of PSV owners have bought newer and more comfortable vehicles, giving commuters the sense that they were getting value for money.
“We believe that the increase would have been due to the fact that some operators would have made the sacrifice and purchased newer vehicles. I know that on some routes we would have seen quite a few newer vehicles and as a result, the ridership would have increased because the ride is more comfortable. Once the ride is more comfortable, persons are going to want to wait for those vehicles,” he pointed out.
Raphael has called on Government to reconsider its decision to only offer duty-free concessions on vehicles imported to operators within the Transportation Augmentation Programme (TAP). He argued that with duty-free concessions, operators can offer a better service to the travelling public, using newer vehicles with roomier and more comfortable seating. He noted that within the privately-owned PSV complement, some vehicles are as much as 40 years old.
“The guys that have newer vehicles would have been able to capitalise on the increase while those with older vehicles have not. Right now, a lot of the new ZRs (minivans) were initially ZM taxis and there are not a lot of those for sale. As soon as one is available, you find 30 ZR owners rushing to buy it.”
Barbados TODAY last week reported that a group of owners are considering taking Government to court over its decision to grant several concessions to PSV operators who joined the recently rolled out TAP initiative.
The disgruntled owners are upset they were not offered similar incentives by Government, despite repeated lobbying for almost two decades.
Participants in the TAP are reportedly being allowed to pay their permit fee over a 12-month period, instead of the usual one-time payment. Permit fee for minibuses is $12 000, while for route taxis (ZRs) it is $7000. Additionally, a $1000 fee charged to register a vehicle as a PSV has been waived. The main bone of contention, however, is the decision to allow them to purchase duty-free vehicles.
Raphael revealed that his association has similar concerns, but they were not prepared to go the route of the courts. Instead, AOPT is seeking to engage Government in talks on the issue. Raphael noted that thus far Government has been amenable to their suggestions and his association is therefore hoping that further dialogue will result in some traction on this issue.
He said: “We want to sit down and have a discussion because there is room for talks. The argument is very strong for us to have this matter resolved. There are two items that we put on the table, one was bus fare increase and the other was duty-free concessions. One of those was resolved and we are hoping that we can make some headway on the other shortly.”