Front Page
May 16, 2008
Minibus men to go after fuel subsidy


Minibus operators have largely ignored the fuel subsidy facility set up by government, but now that the price of fuel has increased again, many will be revisiting their decision not to use it.{{more}}

Since its implementation on August 21st, 2006, only 70 of the 1000 or so registered mini buses have filed to use the subsidy. At press time, a total of $90,911 had been paid out through the facility.

This is while a total of $661,000 was initially made available to the fund.

As he announced the new fuel prices at a press conference earlier this week, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves defended the hike, saying that it was necessary, and he again encouraged mini bus operators to take advantage of the subsidy arrangement.

“In order to avoid the consequential increase in bus fares, we are providing a subsidy to the operators of public transport,” Dr Gonsalves said.

At the new petroleum prices, mini bus operators can claim $3.75 a gallon, up to 286 gallons per month in diesel consumption, while buses running on gasoline can claim $4.50 a gallon up to 220 gallons per month.

Dr Gonsalves, who was out of state when the announcement of the increases was first made, said that government could not sustain the level to which it had been subsidizing petroleum products over the last few months.

The Prime Minister said that prior to the latest increase, his government had been subsidizing the supply of petroleum products to the tune of EC$1.6 million per month.

He, however, noted that even with the new prices, the government will still be subsidizing citizens to the tune of EC$350,000 per month.

Meanwhile, an unscientific poll conducted by SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday, May 14th, showed that bus operators are only now seriously considering the subsidy, and most feel that a fare increase is still necessary, the subsidy not withstanding.

Twelve bus operators (six who ply the Windward route and six, the Leeward) were interviewed. Eleven stated that they had never taken advantage of the subsidy, while ten said that they now have no choice but to use it.

“Well, with the new prices, we go have to use it,’ one operator said.

“I never used it, but I intend to use it now because of the new diesel price,” another said.

The one driver who did use the facility told SEARCHLIGHT that he has not had any problems with it.

“I carry in my submission and in a few days I go back and my money is ready,” this driver said, “I never had to wait long,” he added.

Eight drivers, however, said that the new fuel prices demand a fare increase, saying that with the higher fuel prices will come higher prices in other areas besides gas at the pumps.

“What we want is the fare to rise. Subsidy is not the answer, but we can’t get the increase because a lot of people talk, but then we just back down,” one driver said.

“We need a fare increase but it ain’t make no sense, small men like us fight up, so we have to take the subsidy,” another added.

When SEARCHLIGHT contacted the Public Relations Officer of the National Omni Bus Association (NOBA), Len Grant, he said that they have not had any meetings on the issue of fuel prices.

Grant said that he is uncertain as to how the bus operators plan to deal with the latest increases at the pumps, and the Government’s decision not to grant them fare increases.

“It is business as usual until we have a meeting,” Grant said.

On Wednesday, August 21st, 2006, NOBA called out their members on a wildcat strike that lasted three days, as they rejected government’s subsidy offer.

While the van men then spoke passionately about striking until their demands for increased fares were met, their resolve faded quickly, and even though most of them did not use the subsidy facility, they went back to work.

Dr Gonsalves, as he addressed the issue, also noted that as gasoline jumps from $12.60 to $14.00, diesel from $ 10.35 to $13.25 and kerosene from $10.60 to $13.90, St Vincent and the Grenadines’ prices are still on a par with the trend around the region.

He said that before the increases, St Vincent and the Grenadines had among the lowest petroleum prices in the region, and said that he expected neighbouring territories to also raise their prices soon.

Elliot Burgin of the Ministry of Transport and Works, who has been supervising the mini bus subsidy facility, told SEARCHLIGHT that right now just over $500,000 is available in the fund, and he urged operators to make use the facility.

Burgin said that there are too many doubters who passed judgement on the facility without seeing how it works for themselves.