GOB to Bus owners: we hear you; “something” needs to be done

The Belizean Bus Association (BBA) has renewed hope that it may soon obtain the subsidies they’ve been asking of government, BBA Advisor Patrick Menzies said on Thursday, September 20.

Menzies reported that the BBA executive met with Hon. Edmund Castro, the Minister of State with  direct responsibility for transport, on Wednesday evening, September 19. He described the almost 3-hour meeting as being “very positive.”

“We want to thank the ministry because they are planning on working with us [on] the things we were requesting,” he said.

The meeting and the subsequent decision from the ministers came as a long-overdue response to a BBA letter sent on September 1, 2012, in which the association cited several concerns: the exigent need for a fares increase in light of current economic conditions, the need for government assistance in the form of duty free fuel and exemptions on the importation of parts and equipment, and their right to have BBA representation on the Transport Board.

“The Minister was saying that he will be lobbying Cabinet for duty free fuel if possible; … [he will be] looking at helping with the importation of parts and tires and … exemptions with those things,” Menzies said. “He also pointed out  that it is not illegal to raise the fares or to adjust the fares.”

In relation to the fares, the Ministry of Works & Transport issued a press release on Tuesday this week that stated:

“The Department of Transport hereby announces that Cabinet has given its support to the adjustment of bus fares to a standard rate of $0.10 per mile across the board.

“All providers of  bus transportation are required to comply.”

Therefore, the bus owners – who had been absorbing 20% of the fares that they were originally authorized to charge under a 2002 Ministry of Transport “Internal Policy – are once again charging 10 cents per mile instead of the 8 cents they had been charging.

Both the regular and express bus  fares from Belize City to Belmopan have been increased by $1.00, and are now “re-established” at the across-the-board prices of $5.00 and $6.00 respectively.

Bus operators, however, have also been lobbying government to authorize a price increase to 16 cents per mile.

BBA President Thomas Shaw told The Reporter that on average “if a bus is fully loaded from Belize City to Benque with 54 passengers paying $8.00 each both ways, one bus grosses $864.00; 2 buses would gross $1,728, but the cost of operation [for two buses and the mandatory back-up bus] is $2,142 per day. This is a loss of $414.”

Shaw and Menzies explained that those realities, along with the price of diesel fuel,  which has nearly tripled over the last ten years from $3.65 in January 2000 to more than $10.00 presently, make it unrealistic to expect that the operators will be able to break even, or improve the quality of service and conditions of their buses in accordance with the 37 conditions that the Ministry of Transport expects them to implement.

“The Minister said he will be lobbying on our behalf for the rate adjustment we are looking for,” Menzies said.

The BBA executive and Castro also discussed the need to reinstall “operators [ who  were] illegally removed from their assigned runs and [whose] permits were revoked.”

The minister, according to the BBA advisor, said he will also look into the matter to see how he can  remedy the situation, especially as it relates to Skai’s Bus Line.

Also discussed was the need for the BBA to have representation on the Transport Board “to facilitate transparency.”

While the Minister made no concrete promises or assurances beyond “I-will-look-into-it”, Menzies said the BBA feels that GOB has taken a positive step in the right direction.

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