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KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Minibus operators will begin striking on Wednesday, Aug. 3, unless the Transport Board responds positively to the Minibus Association’s request for higher bus fares, association president Anthony Bacchus announced on Friday.

Bacchus, in a call to the Opposition-sponsored New Times programme on Nice Radio, apologised to commuters but said minibus owners have been operating under “a very serious deficit”.

“We will also like to tell all minibus operators to be prepared to withdraw all your services until further notice. … We are asking the travelling public to be prepared. We don’t want to disrespect them in any way,” Bacchus said.

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He said an increase was necessary although drivers recently implemented fares approved since 2005.

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Bacchus noted that the price of fuel has increased twice since fare were reviewed in 2005 and further said the situation was  “very detrimental for the minibus operators [and] caused us to work in very serious deficit”.

“Now, after the first increase [in the price of fuel] there were no steps … taken to try to assist the minibus operators in any kind of way. … And then they had another fuel increase. … Because the fuel went up, tyres, parts, everything kept going sky high but we continued working under pressure because we have to serve the public,” Bacchus explained.

“[All of] St. Vincent knew that the minibuses needed some kind of increase. Everybody knew that but nothing was done [by] the Transport Board,” he further said.

Minibus operators and the Transport Board this month agreed that passengers travelling short distances longer than a mile would pay EC$1.50.

The new fare applies to commutes from Kingstown to Campden Park, Questelles, Glen, Fair Hall, Belair, Villa, Calliaqua and Arnos Vale.

The meeting also agreed that commutes less than a mile will remain at $1, for the time being.

Bacchus said that his association submitted to the Transport Board  proposal for new fares.

“So, we took time out, we prepared a proposal, we presented them with the proposal, they kept it, we gave them seven days to give us an answer and the answer that came back was very negative,” Bacchus said.

“We were dissatisfied with the results we got from the Transport Board requesting for more time that will bring us into next month,” he said.

“There is no way these operators can continue in this way,” he said. “…it seems like they (the Transport Board) don’t care anything about the minibus operators,” Bacchus further stated.

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Bacchus noted the recent announcement of increase in the price of Liquefied Petroleum Gas, which will come into effect when the Cabinet approves them — most likely next Wednesday.

“… everybody [is] getting increases but we who [are] doing a valuable service to the public, we get no attention. So this is why we are doing to take action on Wednesday,” Bacchus said.

He noted that to the public it might appear that bus fares were increased recently.

“[Commuters] were so used to paying a dollar to go everywhere but what the Transport Board asked us to do is to implement the old fare that [have] been in existence since 2005,” he said, noting that long distance operators, except to Georgetown, were using the fares approved in 2005.

“[Operators in] Mespo and Georgetown, Chateubelair, they are getting squeeze very hard. They are still under a lot of pressure. So, this is why we are trying to work something out with the Transport Board,” Bacchus explained.

He said the decision to strike was supported by the majority of the Association’s members.

“We tried every step to make ends meet but nothing is happening.”

Bacchus further explained that minibus operators would stay at home during the strike “because we don’t want to disrespect no passengers cause they see the vans on the road and not picking them up”.

He further said the strike will be a “peaceful protest”.

“We are not blocking any roads, we are not causing no problems with the police. If you see any vans on the road it might be people working for political reasons, they put politics before interest,” Bacchus said.