By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
Jitney drivers yesterday urged the Government to either approve a passenger fare increase or subsidise the sector given that they are still restricted to 50 percent seating capacity.
Harrison Moxey, the United Public Transportation Company’s (UPTC) president, told Tribune Business he was “disappointed” that the new COVID-19 health regulations limit public buses to just half of their full capacity indefinitely, adding: “How could they do such a thing?”
“Many busses are already off the road now. They had to stop running because they couldn’t afford the insurance or to license their vehicle. Some bus drivers have been hit really hard; some of them were sleeping in their busses,” he said.
He spoke out after the Health Services (COVID-19) (General) Rules, tabled in the House of Assembly, continued the restrictions first imposed by the Minnis administration’s emergency orders. Section 8 (4) states: “A taxi, private or public bus service shall operate provided such service is operated at 50 percent of normal seating capacity of the taxi or bus.”
Mr Moxey argued that continuing to cap jitney occupancy at 50 percent will only push the industry to the brink of collapse, as many franchise holders are barely holding on financially. He predicted that more busses will cease operating their routes by year-end if those restrictions are not reversed soon.
“We have to pay for hand sanitizer, and other PPE’s (personal protective equipment) for our drivers and our passengers, and we have to sit and take a 50 percent pay cut,” Mr Moxey said. “This cannot continue like this. What if they [ministers] were working for 50 percent of their salary for a year? Would they like that?” he asked.
“To continue to follow the protocol is also an expense to us. It’s a decrease in revenue. This is another blow to our industry. We hope that the Government would be willing to give us a bus fare increase or offer a subsidy for public transportation, otherwise our business will collapse - and we are just on the verge of collapse now.”
Pledging to investigate how long the 50 percent occupancy cap will remain in place, Mr Moxey said he will reach out to the Road Traffic Department as well as the minister of transport to ascertain the rationale for maintaining the restriction.
“You can’t just leave us hanging out there like that. We can’t take it any longer. It’s crucial to our survival that either we get the capacity increase or we get some subsidy or we get the increase in bus fares. It can’t just be nothing,” he added.
The idea of a bus fare increase is nothing new. a new call. Mr Moxey, on the UPTC’s behalf, last year lobbied for a 60 percent increase in adult fares to $2 to compensate for the 50 percent reduction in passenger loads. The former Free National Movement (FNM) administration chose not to grant the request.