The Consumer Affairs Association has raised concerns over the impending increase in mini-bus fares saying that it could affect the poor population on the island.
The association’s President Kingsley St. Hill told St Lucia News Online (SNO) in a recent interview that while mini-bus drivers have made calls to have an increase, he believes that it must be a justifiable move.
The association is represented on the committee set up to look at the issue, under the Cabinet, along with the Saint Lucia Road Transport Board (SLRTB).
However, St. Hill said while consultations are still ongoing, the CSA is looking forward to an amicable solution to the issue.
“No consumer association will want an increase to affect the poor marginalised consumers and I don’t understand the plight of the mini-bus drivers,” he told SNO.
St. Hill believes if there are justifiable reasons for an increase, then government should seek to provide some sort of assistance to the poor and the differently-abled. If there is an increase he said, “What they can do is put things in place to protect the poor and marginalised and that is what I’m concerned about.”
The Consumer Affairs Association said if the organisation finds that there are no justifiable reasons for an increase, then they will make representation for the general public. Discussions between officials sitting on the committee are currently at a standstill, he noted. However, once a decision is made on the issue, the Consumer Affairs Association will inform all consumers. The organisation also plans on working to ensure that the outcome of the discussion is to the benefit of all those concerned. St Hill told SNO that consumers’ protection is high on its agenda.
In keeping with the Motor Vehicle and Road Traffic Act of the Revised Laws of Saint Lucia 2001, the Cabinet of ministers had appointed a committee to review public mini-bus fares.
The committee held its first meeting on September 25, 2012. Since then, the committee has written to the National Council on Public Transportation (NCOPT) and other mini-bus associations, to submit a formal proposal for the consideration of the committee, as required by the legislation. The Committee was expected to make a submission to Cabinet ahead of the 2013/2014 Budget. It is unclear whether this has occurred.
The legislation requires that the public mini-bus fares review committee make public the proposal from the operators by publication in the gazette. The general public will then be invited to make submissions in writing, to be followed by public hearing(s) to receive the views and comments of the general public. The NCOPT made a recent pronouncement that a hike is likely to take place, but a specific date was not provided, in which this could be rolled out. Other mini-bus associations are lukewarm about the issue.
While some believe that a hike is needed at this point, others believe that it could cause severe hardship for many people using public transport. Some of mini-bus associations cited the economic hardship as a reason why a hike is not possible for now. Others, however believe that the fare is substantially low, and an increase should have already taken place. Some mini-bus drivers have even suggested that government subsidise the cost of fuel, in order to keep the fare at the current rate.
Members of the public have also expressed their dissatisfaction at a decision to increase mini-bus fares.