The Public Service Vehicle Problem
They stop suddenly in front of you while you are driving, They stop at intersections, major stops, in corners, any and everywhere, indiscriminately picking up and putting off passengers. They often do not use lay-bys at bus stops. They move off without signaling, just as you are overtaking. They overtake you and then stop in front of you to pick up or put off a passenger.
The entity people with cars love to hate. The PSV. What causes this offensive and uncivil behavior? The answers lie partially in the conditions under which the PSV’s operate.
Public transportation in Barbados is provided by the Government owned Barbados Transport Board and privately owned Public Service Vehicles (PSV). These two entities compete for business. Here however, the similarity ends.
ZR’s, Rainbows & Big’uns
The Route Taxi (ZR) pays road taxes of $4,500 annually for vehicles that carry 14 passengers. The Minibus (B) pays $7,200 annually for vehicles that carry 34 passengers.
The Transport Board bus (BM) pays $800 for vehicles that carry 65 passengers.
Hino Rainbow coaches operated by private owners, have a seating capacity of 31 and standing capacity of about 20. Under the existing permit structure, the number of passengers allowed on these vehicles is 31 and the Police routinely report the operators for “overloading” if more are on board and remove the excess. Government has been requested to amend the permits of owners of these vehicles to allow for the increased capacity, but has not seen fit to do so.
Police Hammer ZRs & Mini-Buses, But Ignore Transport Board Offenses!
Transport Board buses carry more passengers than permitted on a daily basis and the Police routinely turn a blind eye, while persistently reporting PSV personnel and making as few as one (1) excess passenger get off the vehicle. Drivers and conductors feel that they are being unfairly targeted, while Transport Board drivers are allowed to break the same law with impunity. There is no transport system in the world that can accommodate peak period demand without some crowding and PSV’s ought to be given the same leeway as that extended to the Transport Board. Some policemen do report Transport Board drivers for overloading, but these cases somehow don’t seem to reach the prosecution stage.
Commuters who patronize these vehicles in large part support and sympathize with the PSV crews as they see the double standards and unfair treatment by the police. They suffer considerable inconvenience and delay when they are put off an “overloaded” vehicle. They know that the PSV will stop for them if they have not reached the bus stop or if there is no bus stop. They know that if it is raining, the PSV will most likely turn into their gap and drop them at their door and that the conductor will help them with their shopping bags should they have. Many parents know that they can trust the crews to look out for their little children on the way to and from school and assist them in crossing roads safely.
No Subsidies For Public Service Vehicles – Only Transport Board
Government mandates that school children in uniform pay $1 on private or public transport. The Ministry of Education pays the Transport Board a subsidy of .50c for each school child carried. The PSV operator cannot legally refuse to carry school children, but is denied any such compensation from Government and is in effect being forced to subsidize the travel of school children out of his own pocket.
The PSV operator is subjected to the discriminatory requirement of the production of clearance certificates from The Inland Revenue Department and The National Insurance Department annually before his permit to operate is renewed.
PSV’s are refused access to the facilities of the country’s two major bus terminals at Fairchild St. and Speightstown, much to the inconvenience of the operators and traveling public, who have no shelter from sun or rain at these locations. The two areas formerly used by the PSV’s at Probyn St and Speightstown are now prohibited and PSV’s are forced to park along the road. PSV crews and passengers at these locations have no toilet facilities.
Bus fares have been fixed by Government at $1.50 for over fifteen years. The cost of vehicles, parts, servicing, mechanical repairs, bodywork, diesel fuel, oil and lubricants has increased steadily over this period, but Government has consistently refused consideration of a fare increase or a reduction of other imposts.
The Transport Board has operated at substantial losses over the past fifteen years and Government has continues to subsidize it at considerable cost to the tax payer rather than increase bus fares. The subsidy runs between twenty million and thirty million dollars annually. The corollary is that Government is forcing private transport providers to run their businesses at an income level which is clearly below the economic cost of providing the service and making it extremely difficult for them to survive. The Public Service Vehicle operator is very likely the only entrepreneur in any free enterprise economic system who has had his income base legally restricted, while his operating expenses have been subject to everyday inflationary pressures in addition to punitive financial impositions by government.
It is interesting to note that during the Cricket World Cup, The Transport Board charged patrons $2.50 to ferry them from designated spots, none of which exceeded a few miles, to Kensington and $2.50 for the return journey, while the PSV is obliged to carry a passenger the length or breadth of Barbados for $1.50
In these circumstances, the only salvation for the PSV operators is in maximizing the numbers of fares collected, hence the constant competition for passengers and complaints of overloading.
An objective examination the above brings one to the conclusion that the PSV operators are not only being subjected to unfair competition from the government, which should properly be the subject of a Fair Trading Commission investigation, but the law is being used unfairly against them. It is ironic that in a case which cries out for the application of fairness, the FTC claims that it cannot intervene as the case involves the Government.
Strangely enough, the area in which the law can alleviate the major problem caused by PSV’s is being neglected. That of repeat offenders. Owners are being blamed in some quarters for offenses committed by their employees and the unsupportable suggestion has been made that owners should be held legally responsible for these offenses. The solution is simple. Repeat offenders should have their PSV driver’s or conductor’s license suspended or rescinded. This is clearly the responsibility and function of the Licensing Authority, the police and the judicial system and not that of the PSV owner.
The official setting of an artificially and unrealistically low bus fare has other unrecognized or unacknowledged negative implications. The first of these is that the earning capacity of workers in this sector has been similarly limited for the past fifteen years. Their wages have been limited by the fact that their employers’ income base has been artificially set by Government mandate, whereas workers in the competing Transport Board have had increases in wages over the same period, increases which have been funded from the public purse and not solely from income generation. A worker who has not had a wages increase in fifteen years and who has to work a fifteen hour day on average to maintain a basic level of income is a disgruntled worker. This situation has led to an extremely high turn over rate in employees.
The second implication of the fifteen year old $1.50 fare is that the low wages available in the PSV sector attracts only a certain level of employee. The inability of owners to offer a decent wage affects their ability to attract a higher level worker and as a result, we are seeing the type of indiscipline and indeed hostility being exhibited.
None of the above is intended to defend or excuse loutish behavior or condone illegal acts, but to offer an explanation of some of the reasons why they occur. It needs to be recognized that PSV’s provide an indispensable service to local commuters and are a critical component of the productive sectors of the economy of Barbados, They are, however, severely discriminated against and marginalized by the Government. The playing field needs to be leveled and a more realistic approach to the pricing of transportation needs to be taken.
When the PSV operators do not have to fight tooth and nail and compete fiercely under adverse conditions for each passenger just to survive, are not subjected to blatant official discrimination and can earn a decent wage while working reasonable hours, then we can expect them to feel more a part of society and conform, rather than pariahs and behave as such.
… Submitted by BFP Reader Inkwell