City bus operators stick by call for fare hikes

City minibus operators yesterday stood by their move to institute higher fares, while saying that there is no authority that can prevent them from doing so.

Neil Manawar-Khan, who was elected president of a group concerning the route 41 and 46 minibus zones, said yesterday that neither government nor Commerce Minister Manniram Prashad had any authority to tell the operators not to increase their fares, since they are running a private service. “How come you want to dictate to me not to increase my fare? Our fare if $80 and we’re sticking to it,” he said.

His comment was in response to Prashad’s call to commuters not to pay the $20 increase being demanded by operators, saying it was an illegality. Prashad’s call was made on Tuesday after he met Lylon Withers of the General Minibus Association, James Cowsil of the Route 32 Minibus Association, and Vibert Bell of the Guyana Public Transportation Association, who all said that their organisations did not authorise a hike. “It’s a few people on the East Coast who are bullying people to pay the high fare. The recognised associations are not endorsing that. They have been approached and they have assured me that there is no increase in minibus fares and [are] urging the general public not to be fleeced,” he was quoted as saying.

Khan yesterday said he was elected president by the drivers and conductors during the January strike at the Square of the Revolution, because they felt Withers was not doing a good job of representing them. He, as well as Orin Melville, who represents the Route 40 and 48 buses, stated that Withers and Bell were not authorised by anyone to represent operators.

According to a Government Information Agency (GINA) press release, at the meeting on Tuesday, Prashad had said that there are no unions which represent the recognised minibus associations as is being reported.

He stated that the “unions have been trying to poach on these minibus associations without success [and] what we saw they told the media [that] they are representing people from these associations that is not so. We are calling on the public again to desist from this illegality. There is no increase in minibus fares….”

Cowsil added that he was not in favour of any union representing the associations. He said his association “met on a previous occasion with the minister, who assured [them] that they will come to an amicable agreement on fare increase if the need arises.”

Khan, in response, said that there is no recognised association and the authorities can check the records. “This union is a registered union,” he said.

Meanwhile, GINA reported the minister as saying that his ministry has been working closely with the associations and any increase would advance if the price of fuel reaches above $1,000 per gallon. “The associations are working closely with the tourism ministry to ensure transportation is at an affordable cost and the government is working… to ensure the price of fuel remains affordable so that the consuming public would not be forced to pay additional, providing that the price of oil remains below $1,000,” Prashad was quoted as saying.

Further, GINA noted that amidst concerns by minibus operators recently government stepped in and drastically reduced the excise tax on gasoline and diesel, on the first occasion from 50% to 30% and more recently to 20%.

However, Melville said the minister was misleading people since recent checks made to the various gas stations proved that the price for gas is now $980 (Farley Gas Station, Hadfield St) and $1,000 (Shell, Texaco and GuyOil). He continued that the gasoline price also affects the cooking gas price, which was $3,140 last month and is now $3,340. “All we are asking for is $20 increase… some people who are refusing to pay de $20 are now finding $300 to buy gas,” he said.

Operators also maintained that they could ask for higher fares. One operator, Dwayne said, “That is my bus and I control it. If the minister want to control my fare then let he come and pay me for my bus.”

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