No quick fix

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Government will be making a huge mistake if it moves ahead with plans to incorporate ZMs (maxi taxis) into the Transportation Augmentation Programme (TAP), says the head of one association.

Instead, chairman of the Alliance Owners of Public Transport (AOPT), Roy Raphael, is urging Government to come back to the negotiation table with terms that make better business sense for the route taxi owners, originally targeted for the programme. As a matter of fact, Raphael is of the view that the introduction of the ZMs into the system will only serve to overwhelm an already saturated aspect of the public transportation industry.

He argued that with the increase in bus fares from $2 to $3.50, route taxis were already seeing significant falloff in ridership.

“Having ZMs enter the TAP programme is not going to be a quick fix as it will create more problems for both ZMs and route taxis. Right now, the route taxis are competing against each other, but to take a ZM and put it in the bus terminal will create issues for the other operators plying the route.

“For example, let’s say you put three ZM vans on the already crowded Jackson route, the other Jackson operators will not be happy about that. We have seen a decline in the number of commuters catching the bus since the increase in bus fare,” said Raphael, who predicted an inclusion of ZMs will only lead to more chaos on the roads.

The AOPT chairman also contended that since the 75 per cent hike in bus fares, there has been an increase in the number of ZMs illegally operating routes, adding to the rat race culture which has blighted the sector’s reputation for many years.

“These vehicles are supposed to operate from a garage, seaport, airport or a place of attraction. The route taxi is only supposed to pick up persons along a route. Since bus fares have gone up, we are seeing an increase in ZM vans plying routes and this is already causing problems on the road,” he explained.

Earlier this week, then chairman of the Transport Board, Gregory Nicholls, revealed that failing to gain sufficient buy-in from
route taxi owners, the organisation is now turning to ZMs to supplement the low bus complement of the state-owned transport service. Nicholls has since resigned as chairman.

His observations followed closely on revelations by chairman of the Transport Authority Ian Estwick, who claimed sabotage by some operators. He admitted that with the programme, which was set to start last Sunday, the goal of contracting 100 private public service vehicles (PSVs) by that time was unlikely. He estimated that around 20 PSVs would have signed onto the programme.

However, Raphael told Barbados TODAY that more PSV operators would be willing to sign on to TAP, had Government followed through on a number of initial promises when discussions about the programme first began.

“Initially we were looking at 20 minibuses and ZRs to start the project with. We were supposed to run the project for eight months then look at how other persons can get on board. Then we were told that because of the issues at the Transport Board, Government wanted 40, then later than number went up to 100.

“There were a number of points of agreement between the PSV owners and Government. These would have been duty-free concessions, an additional permit for persons entering the project and neutral transport co-ordinators, paid for by AOPT, to ensure that everyone is treated fairly,” he said noting while a verbal agreement was established, the PSV owners were yet to see anything in writing.

Additionally, Raphael explained that his organisation wanted assurances that the additional persons brought into TAP, who were not members of AOPT, would also be required to equally contribute to the upkeep of the transport co-ordinators.

“As it stands Government has fallen away from all three of these issues. We are hearing it in talk but they are not putting it in writing,” he stressed.

Governor of the Central Bank Cleviston Haynes today gave his blessings to the TAP, saying it was perhaps the most viable option at this point for the troubled public transportation sector.

He was responded to questions from reporters during the Central Bank’s economic review.

“The government is looking at the possibility of bringing electric buses in order to supplement the existing stock. As you would appreciate the fleet has grown old and tired and therefore there is a low level of buses on the route on any given day,” said Haynes.

“The prime minister would have also announced the desire to integrate the private sector and the public sector and that is probably going to be the more sustainable route because already, the private sector commands about 75 per cent of the overall bus fleet,” he explained.

Haynes said it was critical that the quality of service in the public transportation system improves so that commuters can rely on the bus being there at a particular time to take them from point A to point B.
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