For several years now there have been a barrage of calls being made by those operating in the public transport sector for an increase in bus fare. Those calls came even more fast and furious in the last few months as the new Government has sought to settle in.
In fact, the matter was discussed when representatives of the sector met with Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley following the mini budget of June, when she introduced the new fuel tax and eliminated the road tax. While welcoming that move, the bone of contention for the sector was that the now higher cost of fuel was hurting the operators of public service vehicles (PSV), who spend hundreds of dollars a day in fuel to transport passengers. The calls being made were for PSV operators to access fuel at the rate at which the Transport Board does, or for an increase in bus fares to allow the PSVs to compete fairly in the market.
2011 was the last time that bus fare was increased in this country, moving then from $1.50 to $2. The sector was content with that at the point, but then the Government of the day discontinued the fuel subsidy to the PSVs, which again ignited their pleas for another increase. That call has gone on from then until now and while some have suggested that it move to $5, we would urge Government to think carefully on any fare increase at this time, especially as it undertakes retrenchment within the public sector.
While we appreciate Government’s plan to implement the Retooling and Empowering, Retraining and Enfranchising (RE RE) Programme, which is
expected to see many retrenched workers being gainfully employed sometime in the near future, one cannot help but wonder if the private sector will decide to take their cue from Government and also part ways with some staff. So, while one can appreciate the PSV operators’ rationale for an increase, given their rising operating costs, one must not forget that there are two sides of the coin.
The hike may well be warranted, but one must remember that the commuting public, many low-income earning Barbadians, may not be able to afford such an increase. They have had to deal with the increase in water bills by way of the Garbage and Sewage Contribution, they will as of this month also face the increase in National Insurance Contributions by way of the Health Service Contribution and while the controversial National Social Responsibility Levy has been repealed, consumers have yet to see that reflected in the prices on the shelves, so they are still paying a hefty price for food.
So yes, on the surface an increase of an additional dollar or 50 cents may seem insignificant, but for persons working for minimum wage, it would be an added burden on them, and one they cannot afford to bear. So it is clear that a $5 bus fare would be ludicrous at this time. We respectfully suggest that it should go no higher than $3 and in the interest of not putting undue burden on households, most of which are headed by single women, school children should be allowed to continue riding for free on the Transport Board.
It was also announced in June that Government had allocated $25 million for the repair and purchase of buses and in the case of the latter they would either be electric or use clean energy. Perhaps greater focus needs to be put on this, where Government could offer concessions to the private operators to purchase or retrofit their vehicles to use clean energy, and help to reduce the fuel costs which is a major input for them. Such a move could help to ensure that the sector, which employs more than 7 000 persons remains viable and even eliminate the need for a fare increase right now.