PLAYERS in the public transport sector say they embrace Government’s offer of a 30 per cent discount in renewal fees for one year but lamented on Friday that many transport operators have already paid their fees in full and will not benefit.
On Friday, members of the sector gave their feedback on the discount, as well as a number of other items touched on by Prime Minister Andrew Holness on Thursday during his 2023/2024 budget debate presentation. According to Holness, there is a willingness to help the operators create a real public transport industry.
According to Egeton Newman, president of the Transport Operators Development Sustainable Services (TODSS), his organisation will play the role of watchdog to ensure the commitments put forward by the prime minister become reality.
Newman said the 30 per cent reduction in renewal fees is a good gesture but a lot of the public passenger vehicle operators (PPV) will not benefit this time around because they already renewed their licences. What was good though, according to Newman, a member of the Government gave him a commitment that the benefit will be applied next year when the renewal period comes around once more.
“The 30 per cent discount is very good. They gave us something like this before but most of us didn’t get it because most people renewed their licences before the announcement was made. Forty per cent of operators renewed their licence already because they were running away from the $10,000 fee for late payment. TODSS is going to be a rigid watchdog this time around because we want things to happen in the sector.”
“It is the first prime minister in 20 years who made his presentation in the budget presentation and speak so loftily about the public transport sector. He is listening and learning. He understands now that we are in serious problems and we need a bailout. While we really don’t want any handouts from Government, we want to commend them for the training programme,” Newman said in reference to a training course that will be offered for free to all public passenger vehicle operators.
The course is geared towards improving service quality, behaviour, and awareness of public passenger vehicle operators.
During the budget debate the prime minister said he was aware that a significant number of transport operators see their taxi and bus operations as a formal business, but at the same time there are too many people who treat it as a hustle.
“I am convinced that there is a critical mass that shares this vision to develop a First World public transportation sector,” Holness said, adding that there is also a need to address places to stop, disembark, and take up passengers, as well as the access to affordable financing.
According to the TODDS president, the operators truly desire a real transport industry.
“The type of system we have now, after we invest billions of dollars in this sector, is a hustle. We need a public transport sector where a man who invests $2 million can see even a 10 per cent interest on his investment. When I put forward that money to buy a car to put on the road as taxi, when insurance time comes I have to ask my cousin overseas to lend me money. I am hustling. Please, insurance companies, give us some discount on our insurance.”
Added Newman: “The Government should be ashamed that they gave us $200 million this time last year and not even one man took it up. What happened last year is that we couldn’t access the finance. They said taximen and bus men can get loans up to $700, 000 but when we go to the 10 financial institutions the red tape was so red we wondered if we spilled blood in the road. Give us back the $200 million in a revolving loan. The money should go to one financial institution and the Government would pay them to lend operators the money at a two per cent interest rate.”
“When you give that out to the financial institutions, they make their mark-up — which is tied in with what their original mark-up would be on a loan — so we don’t get it. They will tell a little taximan that, ‘Before I lend you $100,000, you have to have a bank statement.’
“Which taxi man have bank statement? They can’t bank the money they have to carry home evening time. That is a no-no,” Newman said.
Robert Sewell, a taxi operator in Clarendon, said that he won’t be able to benefit from the 30 per cent discount on the fees for licensing that is being offered by Government but spoke enthusiastically about being able to receive support to stay afloat in the business.
“I want them to set up back a fund so we can get loans at a low rate so we can enhance and move on. Sometimes taxi men want to enhance their vehicle and have it looking new again, so whatever they can do to make taxi operators get loans at a low rate, it would help a lot. If your vehicle is down, people need fi have a money differently weh can help your vehicle come back on the road.”
Devon Bryan, a public transport operator in Old Harbour, St Catherine, also applauded the prime minister for “trying”. He believes that if the Holness Administration makes 100 promises to them, 80 per cent will be delivered, he said, saying hat he was impressed with Holness’s speech on Thursday.
“He tries to balance certain things for us but some people are biased. The 30 per cent off is a bit too late for me because I paid mine already, but if I get it next year I will be glad.”