Berbicians yesterday condemned the planned hikes in tolls to cross the Berbice Bridge and bus operators who ply the route between New Amsterdam and Rosignol said the move would likely put them out of work.
Denis Chesney, 68, who is President of the 56 Minibus Association, warned that if the bridge tolls are hiked, Berbice would be “getting a lot of thiefman now, because these drivers that got a family to maintain. Where they gon’ find money from?”
According to Chesney, persons who operate their own buses are making an average profit of $7,000 per day, while persons who are working other persons’ buses are making an average of $3,000 per day. “When you got to charge people about $1,000 to come across the bridge to clear you expense for the trip, then you gah pay gas and then pay dispatcher, what gon’ happen then?” he questioned.
Chesney laid the blame for the situation at the feet of the former government. However, he said, “I feel the government should take away the bridge and run the bridge.” He added, “I don’t think government should subsidise the price because they got teachers to deal with, nurses to deal with, then them got other things, soldier gon’ come up and them building infrastructure all over the place. How much this government can do?”
Chesney explained that over 45 buses currently operate the 56 (New Amsterdam to Rosignol) route. However, he said, every day 21 operators stay at home. “…Because we don’t have the accommodation for everybody to work every day to make a reasonable sum of money, so we had to come to an agreement and every day a different group coming out so everybody can get work,” he added.
Aslam Bacchus, 48, a father of five children, also called on the authorities to intervene, while stressing that he would be affected tremendously. “It get people here working people bus and you got to give them $2,000 a trip and then you got to cross with $8,040 and then you got to full gas, that go run you around $11, 540 per trip plus we got to pay dispatcher. We okay for them keep it $1,900. This will affect us bad,” he stressed.
Nadira Sarswattie, who also operates along the route, stated that she too will be affected a lot. “People does ask back for them $20, much less if the fare gah raise,” she said. “How we go pay $8,040 when we barely working for a lil piece here? The money we working now can just pay the bridge fare, we go can’t get gas and fetch people free and push we hand in we pocket and buy gas.”
She was also fearful that passengers would not travel if the bus fares are increased in response to the new tolls.
Another bus driver, Ashraf Bassier, 36, said, “It will affect me and the passengers them a lot because they won’t be able to pay the crossing to come over the river.” “We won’t be able to work none day when that happen. We have a rotating system right now so everybody get a benefit to live. When that happen [the tolls], no one will be able to work and live,” he stated.
The father of four also noted, that he cannot afford to become jobless at this point, since his family depends solely on him.
Khemraj Persaud, 43, who has been a bus driver for nine years, added, “People nah go travel because them go can’t afford to travel from the bridge because of the cost. Right now is $260 and some people na even get the $260 to cross, so when it go raise people go can’t afford.”
When questioned, the man said he has no other job options. “This is the work me a do all the time and it go affect me a great lot.”
Maxwell Semple, Chairman for the East Bank Berbice Hire Car Association, stated that the increases in the toll would affect the general public. He said, “It will affect us, everybody, all drivers and passengers. When they put the pressure on drivers, drivers will then put the pressure on the passengers.” He added, “We need some alternative. Bring back the boat to help poor people.”
Semple said he believes the bridge company needs to take into consideration how a simple decision would affect the people of Berbice.
Dwayne Curt, 30, who operates the New Amsterdam to Georgetown route said, “It will affect me a lot because I is a poor man. I gah find $81,000 a month, plus I get two kids to take care of, so I done see that gon’ be a big [effect] for me.”
The driver said that for one trip per day presently his expenses add up to an average of $7,000. “If you work one trip for the day, is like you ain’t work for nothing.” “I gon’ got to change route, look for other locations,” he noted.
Rookmin Seenarine, a roadside vendor, noted that she will close down her stand, which she has been operating in New Amsterdam for over 20 years because “when the fare raise me nah go clear nothing.” “Whole day you barely a get sale, much less when the fare raise. It na go make no sense for me sell,” she added.
Meanwhile, David Armogan, Chairman of the Region Six council, condemned the increases, while saying they would be “murder” on the Berbice citizenry. “The people of Berbice can ill afford to pay anything new now because of the current economic situation in the region,” he said in an invited comment. “I would consider those rates as murder because if that thing goes through Berbice would be closed down.”
Armogan criticised the bridge company and he called on government to intervene immediately to ensure that there are no toll increases.
“Government has to intervene on behalf of the people. I don’t know what is the legal implication of it because I haven’t seen the contract [but] what I know is the implications and the difficulty our people will go through and, therefore, government has a responsibility to protect its people, and I hope government would intervene, so that this doesn’t take effect because the cost of living is high and this going to kill us.”
Poonai Bhigroog, President of the Central Corentyne Chamber of Commerce, told Stabroek News that after he saw the announcement of the increase, he wondered whether it was April Fools’ Day. “It is ridiculous! The Berbice economy is so badly off right now. Definitely this is the final nail in the coffin for Berbice,” he said.
He stated that at this point in time, there has to be some sort of negotiation done. “We have to go back to the drawing board because it is unrealistic,” he noted. “It will be automatic inflation because all prices will go up. People suffering right now and it will create a much unwanted impact on the Berbice economy.”
He further said, “Imagine people who are shipping rice to Georgetown, how much more they would have to pay in terms of crossing their trucks. Even the price for the commodities what we produce will change. People will not want to pay more.”
Mohindra Persaud, President of the Upper Corentyne Chamber of Commerce, who was in a meeting when Stabroek News contacted him, said it is an impossible increase.
Ryan Alexander, President of the Berbice Chamber of Commerce and Development Associa-tion, explained that his Chamber will discuss the increase at its statutory meeting, after which it will issue a statement.