Some privately-owned public sector vehicle (PSV) operators are threatening “some form of action” if the Transport Authority does not speedily address the issue of pirating, which they claim is now a feature on several routes.
However, an official of the Transport Authority is giving the assurance that the matter is being addressed, but said it takes time.
While the Alliance Owners of Public Transport (AOPT) had raised the concern of taxi and private vehicles illegally plying some ZR and minibus routes over the years, Commuter Complaints Officer Craig Banfield told Barbados TODAY recently that the issue was of particular concern this year, given the dramatic increase in complaints from members in recent months.
Banfield said while he understood everyone had been affected by the pandemic and needed income, they should take the legal route.
In fact, he said the association had approached some of the illegal operators encouraging them to join the Transport Augmentation Programme, that would see them operating similarly to those associated with the Transport Board.
Two weeks ago, the AOPT identified the Bayfield, College Savannah and the ABC Highway as the most affected by pirates, adding that it was hoping the Transport Authority would come to their rescue since the issue was raised over a month ago.
In a follow up interview with Barbados TODAY, Chairman of the association Roy Raphael said perhaps the time had come for its members to take action since the matter was one of urgency but officials did not seem to treat to it in that manner.
“We are contemplating court action. But I think we need to meet again with the stakeholders to have this matter resolved as soon as possible,” said Raphael, who acknowledged that the matter was not new.
“We need a clear indication of where the ministry is going and when they are willing to meet with us again. We need a clear indication where we are going where these players are concerned. We are willing to meet and get the matter resolved. But it can happen one or two other ways. It can either mean that we go to court or we take some kind of action because it cannot continue. But our business is to have the matter resolved,” he stressed.
He complained that the PSV operators were already experiencing drastically reduced earnings since the pandemic started affecting the island in March and the illegal operators that were now picking up passengers from bus stops along ZR and minibus routes were making matters worse.
“What it appears to some people is that nothing is being done about the pirates,” he said, adding that members were complaining bitterly about meagre revenue but high insurance, high fuel charges, maintenance and other expenses.
One Wanstead to Bridgetown (Route 3) operator could be heard on a voice note earlier this week complaining that he has bills to pay but while he was struggling to get some of the estimated 200 commuters on that route “the pirates living large in this country”.
It is now estimated that the number of illegal operators was well over 50, based on the unique complaints coming in.
Raphael said he believed the time had come for the Ministry of Transport and the Transport Authority to revamp the sector.
“In Barbados we now have five different classes of transport that pick up people – we have the Transport Board, we have the TAP buses, the minibuses, the ZRs and now we have the pirates,” he said.
“We cannot operate in the same vein as we were operating in the 1980s and 1990s,” he said.
Director of the Transport Authority Ruth Holder told Barbados TODAY the matter was raised over a month ago with the new minister of Transport Ian Gooding-Edghill who was working with the authority to rectify the issue.
Acknowledging that it was a long-standing concern, Holder said she was not in a position to tell the PSV body whether it should take “action”, but could only give the assurance that work was being done behind the scenes to address the situation.
“Within the authority, we are taking the steps that we deem to be necessary within our ability, legal and otherwise. The association may not think that we are acting fast enough because they are not seeing what is happening internally,” said Holder.
“As such, I cannot make any recommendations whether they go ahead with any legal action or any form of action they intend to . . . but we are taking the relevant action here,” she added, noting that a definitive timeline for a resolution could not be given.
Meanwhile, the association has reported a decrease in complaints against PSV operators for playing loud music and stopping other than at a bus stop.
However, the organisation is seeing an increase in reports for dragging, which officials have attributed to the operation of “pirates” on the routes and also because fewer people are taking public transport.
Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in a halt to the travel and tourism sector for several months, all sectors including taxi (Z and ZM) operators have been hit by a loss of income.