KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Minibus operators begin a three-day strike Monday and will withdraw their services Monday to Wednesday every week until the government meets their demands for a further review of fares.
President of the National Omnibus Association (NOBA) Anthony Bacchus made the announcement last week, two weeks after he admitted that members of his association made a mistake while negotiating new fares with Transport Ministry officials.
Bacchus said on radio on Friday that omnibus operators want to continue to receive government subsidies and continue to operate under a 1982 law.
He said that according to the 1982 statute, students 4 to 11 years are transported at half price and those 11 to 15 years, at 75 per cent of the fare.
“This is what we have been working with … for the last 15 years. Now, the new proposal that we have put in, we requested that the same thing … continue[s],” Bacchus said.
He said some people have wrongly insisted that the law dictates that all students 4 to 16 years should be transported at half price when in school uniform.
Omnibus operators, Bacchus said, disagree with two elements of the proposal.
“If we carry school children from 4 to 16 [years], we will be carrying them at a loss — for less than we have been carrying them,” he said.
He further said that transport officials have authorised omnibus operators to charge students the full fare when they are not in uniform.
“For example, if a mother is coming from Georgetown and she has three kids like 4, 6, and 10 [years old], they have to pay $24 one way and the round trip will be $48 dollars,” Bacchus explained.
He said omnibus drivers cannot “impose that type of fare on children”.
“It might sound good to us. We could be making money but we are not in the state where we could try to impose that kind of fare on passengers,” Bacchus said.
“What it will cause is confusion between passengers and the drivers. So, we [are] are rejecting that. … This is why we are withdrawing our services, hoping that we can change back to what we had proposed and what we have been doing for the last 15 years in reference to the rate for school children,” he explained.
Bacchus said that omnibus operators also want transport officials to list the fares for more areas as well as increase fare for some districts.
Bacchus and other NOBA officials said at a press conference last week that they were not satisfied with the rates gazetted for some areas, particularly in the north of the country.
Mini-bus operator Presley Daniel, who represents his colleagues in the North Windward zone, said it was unreasonable for commuters to pay EC$6 to travel 51 kilometres from Kingstown to Owia, the same fare as the 35-kilometer trip from Kingstown to Georgetown.
Transport Minister Sen. Julian Francis has said that the 1982 law Bacchus cited was replaced when Cabinet approved the new rates recently.
He said that NOBA had in some instances proposed substantial increases in fare.
“In all fairness, we couldn’t ask the traveling public to pay those fares,” he said, adding that before fares were reviewed earlier this month, NOBA and transport officials had agreed to what fares would be proposed to Cabinet.