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Minibus Drivers Seek Fare Hike

By Reginald Andrew

Minibus drivers on island are complaining that they too ‘feel the squeeze’ from the reeling economic downturn brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic—and as such, they deserve to be afforded an equitable measure of the financial assistance provided to other business sectors.

The drivers contend that they feel maligned, since the economic package given to them falls short of meeting their living and operational expenses. Over the past week, the drivers have become more vocal with their complaints and are calling on the authorities to step in and help rectify this matter.

Godfrey Ferdinand
Godfrey Ferdinand

President of the National Council of Public Transportation (NCOPT), Godfrey Ferdinand says the association is willing to meet with government halfway in order to negotiate terms that will prove beneficial to the drivers; while, at the same time, try to minimize a cash strain on commuters.

“We will meet with the relevant authorities, hopefully next week or week after so we can address some of these issues. I also believe that we can put something new on the table. If nothing else can be done, at least a twenty-five cents increase,” Ferdinand told reporters, recently.

The NCOPT president stresses that this is a matter of urgency and it is an appropriate time to discuss the drivers’ plight, with proposals for an increase in bus fares as a necessity. Ferdinand contends that the drivers want a slight increase on all routes, regardless of the distance, an increase that won’t negatively affect the public.

He noted that the ‘cost of living’ alongside other operational expenses is rising steadily across the board and the sector cannot continue working as they are.

Ferdinand said that since shipping costs have been factored into the issue of fluctuating price hikes on commodities, globally, due to Covid-19, “why is it that it cannot be the same for us (minibus drivers), bearing in mind that we have not received an increase over the past 12 years …but we also have to buy the same stuff like everybody else because of covid, because of transportation and we are supposed to operate with the same fare for the past 12 years.”

He argues that the covid-19 pandemic places an added financial burden on the drivers having to survive with decreased earnings, domestic commitments and debt payments to financial institutions.

Commenting on the reinstatement of the 10-passenger protocol, Ferdinand declared: “It would serve the operators more to receive a 25cents increase across the board, than the minimal amount of money that the government is giving on rebates and income support.”

He adds that a minimal bus fare increase, “would give us a better light in our business, if we get 25cents increase on the fares across the board.”

Ferdinand explained the reason why they chose that option, hinges on the premise that “putting 25 cents on fares would serve us better than the $800 that we are receiving.”

He said that while bus operators are cognizant of the hard times that people generally have to cope with, over the past 12 to 14 years, bus operators have been working with the authorities to help ease the squeeze on commuters.

The NCOPT president says they are aware of the complainants generated any time the operators put up a case for bus fare hike, but according to him, bus drivers have been receiving a rebate of $2.00 per day and in some instances $1.00 per day , based on the NCOPT’s calculations. He feels this is insufficient to help operators meet with the increasing demands to sustain a livelihood in that sector.

“What we have done for the past 14 years is that we have not taken an increase and bus drivers in this present situation …transporting 10 passengers, are suggesting that if we cannot get the increase now, give us 25 cents on every fare or route so that we can at least cover the costs of the passengers that we are losing,” Ferdinand stated. “And I feel that is a justified request.”

He said that while the bus fare increases is an issue that takes a longer process, however, in the meantime and to help operators offset traveling costs “for immediate relief, if we can get a 25cents increase on the bus fare it will be something that can cover losses.”

Earlier this month, bus operators were provided with an $800 ‘relief package’ from government.

However, Ferdinand argues that the bus drivers are the first ones to be impacted when a covid-related crisis factor arises. “We are the first ones impacted by a reduction and are being asked to make sacrifices. We’ve been doing that for 15 months and we cannot continue doing this …because if we continue doing this, we will go out of business.”

The drivers continue to express their frustrations with the reinstated 10 passenger limit, and according to a southern route bus driver, they “have been suffering for a long time” and are struggling to keep up with payments to their respective banks.

Also, there is a general contention amongst drivers that some passengers fail to comply with the protocols and thus add more pressure on the drivers with their reckless behaviour.

Meanwhile, President of the Southern Minibus Drivers Association, Marcellinus Faisal says minibus operators are paying dearly for the recklessness of other people.

Faisal contends that it is common knowledge that the virus is transmitted mainly amidst mass crowd events such as parties, so those people are the ones who should be mainly targeted by the protocols, and not minibus operators.

He supports the notion put forward by his fellow drivers that minibuses should be allowed to continue to transport 12 passengers.

The Route 4H operator declared: “Those people who party all night long should be the ones paying for it… they are the ones who should be blamed for the spread of the virus, not us.”

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