Promised joint statement by minibus union, ministry on proposed fare hikes expected soon -Eon Andrews

Despite more than a month elapsing since the United Minibus Union (UMU) met with the Ministry of Business to discuss a proposed increase in bus fares, head of the union Eon Andrews says that a joint statement is expected soon.

The UMU and the ministry met on July 4th, despite a proposal being sent to the Ministry since June 23rd.

Andrews, who attended the meeting along with representatives from different minibus zones around the country, subsequently declared that the discussion was intense but cordial, while noting that the union’s various proposals were discussed.

“He [Business Minister Dominic 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.

However, while it was announced that a joint statement would have been made shortly after the meeting, more than a month passed without anything being said by the UMU or the ministry.

Andrews told Stabroek News that he is sure that a statement will be released this week.

He suggested that the delay by the ministry might have been caused by further consultations that would have had to be done by its sister agencies, given that the issue of raising bus fares encompasses various ministries that are involved in the sector.

“There was a lot of spill off and they have to have their conversation and discussion as it relates to the powers that cover the sector. The Ministry of Public Infrastructure may fall into it too. With our proposal, they would’ve met with others and most of what they arrived at they would have to take to Cabinet,” Andrews said, while noting that he is very optimistic about the situation.

Despite there being a drop in gas prices early last month, with gasolene moving from $230/litre to $226/litre and gasoil (LSD) moving from $219/litre to $215/litre, Andrews noted that the UMU is still holding out that the fares should be increased across the board.

He stressed that its proposal to increase the bus fares does not stem from the fluctuating gas prices alone and that a major contributor is the significant increases in operational cost over the years.

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

Because of the sector being governed by a free market, bus operators can legally increase their fares as they deem fit, once they have their fare structure displayed in their vehicles. However, Andrews noted that they want the increase to come as a result of discussions and agreements between the union and the many stakeholders.

The proposal that 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 there to be a reasonable reduction in the excise tax on fuel.

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