KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — Minibus operators in St. Vincent will today withdraw their service for a second consecutive day in an effort to get the government to review fares for the second time this month.
The plan to strike from Monday to Wednesday every week until the government meets their demands for a further review of fares.
President of the National Omnibus Association, Anthony Bacchus said on radio yesterday that the group never agreed to the rate for students approved by Cabinet and gazetted recently.
Minibus operators want to revert to a 1982 law, which says students 4 to 11 years are to be transported at half price and those 11 to 16 years, at 75 per cent of the fare. Minibus operators have been using this statute for the past 15 years.
However, Bacchus said that based on the last review this month, all students in school uniform are to be transported at half price and pay the full fare otherwise.
“We never agreed to the children rates that were gazetted. … However, he (Minister of Transport Sen. Julian Francis) still took it to Cabinet and got it gazetted,” Bacchus said.
“… I even called the Minister before the fare list was published and I tried to tell him to hold up. But he said to me — he sort of got upset – ‘Comrade, you do what you gotta do I do what I gotta do’,” Bacchus said.
He further noted that the Minibus Association doesn’t get any subsidy, even for transporting students.
“However, this [new arrangement] states now those secondary school children, if you pick them up in a dollar zone area, they will be carried for 50 cents,” Bacchus said, adding this NOBA also disagrees with charging student the full fare when they are not in uniform.
NOBA also wants transport officials to list the fares for other regions, Bacchus said, even as he admitted making a mistake during the negotiations.
“I am learning and I am honest enough to admit I made a mistake,” he said.
However, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves told journalists on Monday that Transport Minister Francis said he had a letter in which NOBA agreed to accept half price for students up to 16 years.
“We have just increased fares. … They got increases ranging from 25 cents to $1 to $1.50. Most of them are 50 cents though,” Gonsalves said, adding that fares were increased in 14 of 28 of the areas listed.
He said NOBA was to continue with transport officials, discussion on a range of other issues, including the quality of service.
“I am really sorry to see that they have gone to withdraw their services. I don’t know what that is to prove. … You think that because you withdraw your services for a day, two days, three days that the public is going to say yes, yes, yes, I will give you $2 for the [short] drop,” Gonsalves said.
He further said that some operators were not implementing the approved fares “because the public said they are not paying any increase”.
“The minibus association, it seems to me, has to carry out a programme of education to the public and say these are the fares which have been approved,” Gonsalves remarked.
“I understand the challenges that some of the minibus operators have but I don’t see this as solving any problem. … Really, they should come and sit down and talk about all the issues rather than to withdraw [their services],” he said.