President of the United Minibus Union (UMU) Eon Andrews has questioned the government’s sincerity in addressing the challenges faced by operators, who have proposed hikes in fares, following the scuttling of a planned meeting on Wednesday.
Andrews had told Stabroek News that the Ministry of Business had reached out to him last Friday, after the UMU submitted a proposal for increases in bus fares, among other things, and a meeting was scheduled for discussions.
However, Andrews said on Thursday that he had not received any further communication from the ministry since the meeting was cancelled and he urged that a meeting be convened as soon as possible.
“I don’t know what they are doing because it doesn’t make sense to me because you can have this situation resolved quickly. From the news I’ve been hearing [it] is that they are trying to say that certain things in the proposal will require the intervention of other ministries. I just hope they don’t feel that if they give it a little time this issue will die away because it will not,” Andrews said, while adding that he believes that enough attention is not being paid to the issue, which could have a severe impact on commuters. “We understand that government may be in a tight position in terms of the fuel prices because of the world market but they have to take into consideration that there are other spinoffs. Suppose now some of these commuters decide that they aren’t paying the raises that these buses are asking for and some of the arrogant drivers escalate the situation? And right now it looking like it could happen and I’ve seen it happen before,” Andrews explained.
He emphasised that the situation could escalate further although a nationwide bus strike, which has happened before, is not on the cards for the UMU. “That’s something we don’t want to do because when you look around you saw the pain on the traveling public’s face,” he explained.
Andrews said all the UMU is asking for is a meeting with the ministry to discuss its proposal so that they can come to an agreement that is fair to both the public and the operators.
“Let us get to the table and let us both sit so that we can arrive at a decision through discussions. We know for a fact that if there is a joint statement they [the public and drivers] would conform. We are not going to get into any negotiation or agreement that will affect the commuters negatively because the industry cannot survive without them,” Andrews argued.
He explained that if meaningful conversations are not held in a reasonable time then bus operators around the country will be forced to increase their fares. However, he noted that the UMU thinks the best course of action would be to have discussions and negotiations with the authorities.
The proposal, which was submitted two weeks ago, is for an increase of $20 for short drop fares and a $40 increase for other operators. It has also requested the consideration of a five-year moratorium on the importation of minibuses, which Andrews and other operators say is putting the business under strain, and for there to be a reasonable reduction in the excise tax on fuel.
Three months ago, the price per litre of gas stood around at $200, and today it currently stands at $230 at GuyOil, $239 at Shell and $235 at Rubis.