Ministry of Business, bus union to issue statement on fares meeting

The United Minibus Union (UMU) has met with the Ministry of Business, and its head, Eon Andrews, says that a joint statement is expected to be released soon on the question of increased fuel prices and fares.

Andrews had earlier told Stabroek News that he was disappointed that a meeting between the ministry and the union was delayed for such a lengthy period of time. The union had sent their proposal to the Ministry on June 23 and a meeting was set for the following Wednesday. However, the meeting did not come to fruition and the union had claimed that the Government was not taking the matter as seriously as it should.

However, Andrews confirmed with Stabroek News last evening that a meeting was held yesterday with the Consumers Department of the Ministry of Business, along with the Minister of Business Dominic Gaskin and other representatives from various minibus routes around the country.

“We had a cordial discussion and it was an intense discussion for most of the evening, and the proposal was ventilated. He [Gaskin] thinks that we have just cause for the things we need, but there is going to be further discussions that will have to happen,” Andrews explained.

He pointed out that while the discussion has started, no solid agreement has been reached since there will be a need for additional meetings with other stakeholders, including other ministries.

“He understands what is going on and we have started the process. It was cordial and we would like to say that the Minister was very professional and understanding of the scenario as it relates to the need for [an] increase, and how it would impact both the consumers and the people who work in the sector,” Andrews explained, while adding that a joint statement is expected within the next few days.

He was unable to say what would be the content of the joint statement but related that he wanted to ensure that the commuters and the drivers know that they are making progress to find an amicable solution to the current problem.

The proposal, which was submitted, 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 a reasonable reduction in the excise tax on fuel.

Over the last several weeks, minibus drivers and conductors have been sporadically striking due to the rising l costs of operating their vehicles and the increase in gas prices.

Over 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, without any indication of it being lowered.

Bus drivers have argued that they are unable to make a living wage due to the rising price of tyres and other maintenance costs.

Sookdeo Singh, a bus driver and representative of the East Coast of Demerara route, at an earlier press conference, had given a breakdown of the yearly and daily operational costs of his bus, which he said is “way more” than the amount of money he earns.

Totalling his costs for insurance, fitness, licences, servicing and other monthly repairs, tyres, and dues to the Mayor & City Council, Singh explained that he spends a minimum of $745,000 a year, which translates to approximately $2,100 per day, excluding the cost of gasoline.

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