The Belizean Bus Association (BBA) told The Reporter Wednesday that the current fare of 8 cents per mile for the Western runs is no longer enough for bus owners to meet their operational costs, and it must be increased to at least 16 cents per mile.
BBA President Thomas Shaw and advisor Patrick Menzies said that with the current high price of diesel fuel, bus owners that operate two buses would make an average loss of over $400 a day.
Shaw explained that the cost to operate one bus a day is $741. Therefore, if a company has two buses the total average cost would be $1482. Moreover, bus owners are required to have a back-up bus, which averages a cost of $660. This leaves a “total cost of $2142 per day.
Reading from a copy of a letter that the BBA sent to Minister Edmund Castro of the Ministry of Transport on Saturday, September 1, Shaw said, “If a bus is fully loaded going from Belize City to Benque and back, and all 54 passengers pay $8.00 going and another $8.00 for the return trip, the bus grosses $864.00.”
Under such a system, two buses would make a gross of $1728, which is $414 less than their cost of operations. Shaw and Menzies argued that the loss is even greater because “buses never go fully loaded to Benque; the buses never return fully loaded to Belize City; and even when buses leave full (even with standees), this does not continue to the final destination because passengers may disembark along the way.”
Menzies said that the bus owners, in order to achieve real growth and profits, “deserve a 22-cent per mile price.” That price would be almost triple the current price and would match the increased price of Diesel fuel, which has tripled from $3.65 per gallon in the year 2000 to over $10.00 presently.
Recognizing the tough economic times, the BBA’s Cost-Profit Analysis shows where even 16 cents per mile could allow the bus owners to make at least $173 profit per bus—if all bus runs go filled to capacity.
In the letter to Minister Castro, Shaw wrote: “On the 22nd of March 2012, … we requested an audience with you in an effort to voice the concerns of our operators, primarily incentives to reduce our operational costs which have crippling our businesses; … We have not received a response and have not been able to meet with you.
The non-response and the crippling prices are contemporary concerns for bus owners, who are also expected to adhere to the Ministry of Transport’s new 37-point customer service and safety mandate.
Shaw letter continued, “On Wednesday 29th of August the members … formally met and came to the consensus that it is impossible to meet the requirements as requested, due to a very low debt to income ratio!”
In addition to the need to increase bus fares, Shaw’s letter also stated that the association would lobby the government for a lowering of fuel rates.
Menzies explained that while the fluctuations of the world prices of oil are out of the Belize government’s control, GOB is able to do something about the taxes as percent of fuel price, which is currently over 25 percent.
“When price of oil on the world market goes down, the price at the pumps in Belize should also decrease; but, because of the tax, the price at pump usually remains the same,” Menzies said.
The association, which says it gets no assistance from government, is also asking the authorities to offer subsidies in the form of duty-free importation of parts and equipment such as buses and tires.
The BBA-to-Castro letter also listed the need for the association to have representation on the Board of Transport to facilitate transparency. They also called on government to reinstate all operators who were “illegally removed from their assigned runs and (whose) permits were revoked.
The association also said they will lobby for it regulations that will mandate the authorities to give operators a 120-day notice before terminating their Road Service Permit.
According to the Board of Transport’s Chair, Merlene Bailey-Martinez, the bus owners’ price-and-subsidy-related demands are “things that are worth examining.”
She explained, however, that should a price increase be the agreed upon path, BBA would have to execute a consumer-education campaign to explain the new prices and the need for the increase.
Shaw and Menzies told The Reporter that such a campaign is something that they certainly accept as their responsibility to their commuters.