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Govt spending hefty amounts to provide free bus service

Transport Minister Robeson Benn speaking with reporters as one of the big buses that is providing free transportation passed by.

Government is spending as much as GUY$25,000 on fuel for each of several privately-owned buses that have been deployed to provide free transportation to commuters and force minibus operators to negotiate a fare structure. 

That easily works out to an estimated GUY$250,000 per day for the 10 buses that have been put on several routes.

“The public transportation system has to be regulated by government either by leveraging the situation as it is now or by sitting down- and we are open to that too- to discuss the issue and to arrive at a resolution that presents a win-win situation for all sides,” Transport Minister, Robeson Benn said at the Stabroek Market Square near the busy minibus park.

Benn defended government’s decision to fund free public transportation, saying that government had a right to intervene in the market if there was “bullyism” by a number of minibus operators who unilaterally force commuters to pay higher fares.

He rejected suggestions that the free public transportation being provided was an electioneering gimmick. “Elections or no elections, we respond in like manner to bring a resolution to the matter,” he said. “I’m surprised that anyone would bring elections in ths matter. This for any and every person.”

Government had previously deployed buses when minibus fares had begun skyrocketing due to a rise in world oil prices.

Salim Twahir, owner of Knight Rider Bus Service, told reporters that government was not paying for the transportation, but only for fuel purchases and the cost of the drivers for seven buses that are so far deployed to operate three hours in the mornings and afternoons.

Twahir emphasise‎d that his bus service was involved in easing the transportation woes as a means of giving back to the society. “It is not that we have a financial arrangement in place. We are assisting the ministry to get the people (passengers) off the road,” he said. He said that a full tank of fuel, which costs GUY$25,000, would give four return trips to Parika, Mahaica or the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA).

The Transport Minister declined to immediately say how much government was paying or has set aside to pay the bus services, but he announced that he was prepared to double the number of buses to 20 if required. He said moneys were being spent from a budgetary line-item called “other services.”

Currently, about 10 buses have been provided to serve the following Demerara routes: West Bank, East Bank, Parfaite Harmonie and the East Coast.

He explained that government was hopeful that its intervention would result in talks with representatives of minibus services. Benn observed that passengers are often charged the full-stage (route) fare although they are travelling short-drop while in other cases they are given short-change if they do not pay the prescribed fares. He said in several instances, minibus operators have threatened to withdraw their services if fares were not increased.

“We do not believe that this is simply a question of market-forces….That is not market forces at work. That is bullyism at work and we have to respond. Markets have to be regulated and the public transportation network has to be regulated by the actions of government even by leveraging the situation” he told reporters.

Bus fares in Guyana are not regulated by law, but government relies on moral suasion in negotiating with bus associations. 

Twahir, Ministry of Transport and Police Force officials said passengers would not be at risk travelling in the buses whose registrations are in the P rather than B series.