What the people say about the Berbice River Bridge toll

Interviews and photos by Shabna Ullah

20140526roopnarineRoopnarine Somwaru, fish vendor:

‘From my experience the toll is really too high. It is 95% more than the toll for the Demerara Harbour Bridge and the government should do something to reduce it. I don’t have to cross much because I would use our fishing boat. I can understand what the people who have to use the bridge to get to work on either side are facing though. It is not easy for them, especially single parents who have to find so much money for their children to cross on a daily basis. I agree that the bridge is very useful and it is a faster means. The price would suit the businesspeople but the small fishes would feel the pressure. Many people still use the pontoon that works in the mornings and afternoon to facilitate the schoolchildren, just to economize. With that toll we can cross the Demerara Bridge 22 times with our vehicles.’







20140526deodatDeodat Girdharri, Supervisor, security,

‘It seems as though the bridge is mostly for the rich people who have to transact business on either side. But the people who are working are finding it difficult. I have many friends who came from New Amsterdam end to work at Fort Wellington and other parts of the region but they … leaving their jobs because of the high fare to get there. They cannot afford to travel. I think they should reduce the toll so the bus fare can be lowered and more people would be able to travel. The buses would even get more work, more vehicles would cross and the bridge would still make a lot of money. I go to New Amsterdam once per week but if the toll was lower I would have travelled twice a week.’







20140526shazidaShazida Abdulla, businesswoman,

‘I feel the toll should really be reduced because many small businesspersons would like to cross their vehicles but it wouldn’t compensate them at all, especially if they just have to spend about an hour. I agree that waiting on the buses to full to take you across is time consuming. It is a shame that although some people have their vehicles for convenience they still cannot afford to use them. To me, this is affecting the development of the country and if we should move forward and promote tourism those responsible should reduce the cost. All of us can come forward and express our views and help to make changes. I know that the Bridge Company and the investors fixed the toll to match what the ferry used to charge. But how many ordinary Berbicians use to cross their vehicles? They were just foot passengers so they never paid those ridiculous charges. If there is an emergency you have to pay a lot of money to get across.’





20140526charlesCharles Sutherland, pensioner:

‘The bridge is very useful because you can travel across the river very fast and get back to continue your work. If persons had to wait on the boat it would have taken a very long time. I don’t know much concerning the toll or whatsoever but for the fare, I think it is alright. We don’t always have to wait long to get the bus. Only on Sunday and maybe after school hours we may have to wait a little longer for the bus to get enough passengers to leave the park. But otherwise to that, the transportation is good, it is much easier.’








20140526sanitaSanita, food vendor,

‘I have seven children and it is very expensive for me to take them across the bridge to visit my relatives on the Corentyne. I live at Blairmont and I have to pay $300 for each one to cross and I am a poor woman. Persons who have money would say they can afford it but it is the poor persons they have to cater for. With all that money they are charging I believe that they made enough money by now and can reduce the toll. I am glad that Rosignol Secondary became a List ‘A’ because the children who do well no longer have to worry about the high cost to crossing. They can come right here.’





20140526romeoRomeo, fisherman

‘The bridge toll is definitely too expensive. To me when they fixed the toll they were only thinking about the rich. I think if they reduce the toll it would be easier for poor people. Some children use the pontoon to go to school and that is a great help but not many of them feel safe using it. What’s the use of having a bridge in Berbice and not having easy access because of cost? Many people would like to use bicycles and they should have allowed that.’








20140526nafeezaNafeeza Majeed, domestic worker,

‘We love the bridge and we are very happy that we can use it to get across the river so quickly. It is much better than when we used to depend on the boat. But how many of us as Berbicians, are benefiting from it as we would like? People are barely surviving on small earnings and can only afford to use the bridge once in a while. Although New Amsterdam and the Corentyne are so close, they are still far. Parents who send more than one child to schools across the river are finding it hard. The government should have a special bus to take the children over. Also if we have a close relative admitted at the New Amsterdam Hospital we can’t go every day to see them. We have to pay over $1,000 in transportation and then maybe we would have to buy something to eat. I used to visit my relatives in New Amsterdam a lot but now it is too expensive. They should do something about the toll.’






20140526narineNarine Persaud, fishing boat captain,

‘I think it is about time the bridge toll is reduced because the small man’s pocket is feeling it. We are very happy that we got a bridge but we are not enjoying it as much as we anticipated because many people cannot afford to use it too often. The APNU is right to ask for the toll to drop. But I believe that if the government cannot do it because they did not invest in it then the bridge company should drop it. Also, I would like the APNU and the AFC to make representation for the high charges at the GPL [Guyana Power & Light) and GWI (Guyana Water Inc.) to be dropped.’






20140526fizalFizal Satar, fish

‘I agree that the bridge is very useful but it is very expensive for school children and government workers who have to cross on a daily basis. Single parents are also finding it difficult to pay that much money to cross. Those in authority need to do something because the poor people cannot afford it especially those who have a lot of children. Where are they going to find bus fare for all of them? The boat assists the schoolchildren a lot but it is not always on schedule. My concern is that the toll should be dropped and more people would cross. I know of many persons who have their vehicles and cannot use it cross because of the toll. There are some other people who never crossed the bridge and others who just cross one time per year.’






20140526julietJuliet Dukhi, Humanitarian/Social Activist/Volunteer

‘The Berbice Bridge toll: a typical case of the rich getting richer and already poor sinking deeper into poverty. For the record I would like to state that I am not affiliated with any political parties past or present in Guyana. This on-going battle between the Opposition and the ruling party to reduce the current exorbitant toll seems like pouring water down a duck’s back; as the Minister of Transport and the ruling PPP are not budging a mere inch to the combined pleas of the opposition and the working class people to alleviate this financial burden placed on the grass root commuters using this lucrative investment. I firmly believe the fare is overly inflated and Guyana’s government is uncaring and insensitive to the needs of its grass-root citizens. Back in the good old days of the ferry the students travelled all month inclusive of weekends and public holidays on a mere $200 and adults $1000 contract. Pensioners travelled free, they simply had to show their national ID card to the ticket collector. Can the PPP; who claim they are a peoples’ government; tell the citizens of this country what system they have in place to alleviate the daily hardship faced by commuters of the Berbice Bridge? These commuters are forced to pay the exorbitant fare to cross; because if they fail to be on-board the ferry/pontoon during the two trips in the mornings and two in the afternoons only Monday thru Friday they have to use the route 56 buses, also on weekends. Some homes have three children who traverse the bridge to attend schools on the eastern side. The facts are in plain view for anyone with a conscience to see the amount of financial strain this puts on those poor low income and single parent families. Do the math – it’s quite simple: a commuter pays $300 one-way fare, so round-trip costs $600, that is just to cross the bridge, you still have to add the cost of transportation to and from school, to and from home; so let us say an average of $1000 per child per day and there are three children from one home who attend school five days per week as stipulated, some also attend extra lessons on weekends; need I say more?

An interesting point to note is all parliamentarians and government officials have a pass to cross on the bridge; a charge which no doubt is paid for by the hardworking taxpayers of this country.

Secondly; during the PPP’s congress in August 2013; which was held in Region 6, the bridge toll was considerably reduced for certain classes of vehicles; these vehicles were used to transport the supporters of PPP to and from the eastern side of the bridge where the congress was held in Corentyne.

From this information we can conclude that the toll of the bridge can be reduced if the officials who are responsible for this “milking cow” so desire.