Fares to increase come Monday
Bus and taxi fares are to be increased by 15 per cent across the island come Monday, August 16, the transport ministry announced last evening in the first adjustment to rates in eight years.
Transport operators have been clamouring for an increase in fares for months, and last night, the transport ministry noted that the increase comes following “several and varying requests”, adding that the Cabinet “reviewed the requests, along with the economic impact of the pandemic on the general public and the resultant effect of the rate of inflation, and sought to find a solution”.
Commuters who take bus and taxi rides throughout the Kingston Metropolitan Transportation Region will pay $15 more, while travel on the government-owned Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) buses will hold at $100.
Fares for the elderly, the disabled, and children on JUTC buses will remain at 50 per cent of the adult fare. There will be no change to the fares for Montego Bay Metro, which operates in the western end of the island as well.
Opposition Spokesman on Transport Mikael Phillips said he was surprised at the announcement given that during his Sectoral Debate presentation in May, Transport Minister Robert Montague said that he rejected applications for a fare increase.
“An increase had to come. There is no question about it,” Phillips told The Gleaner last night. “For, look at the cost of petrol in the last year. That has seen at least 40 per cent increase. So when you give a 15 per cent increase, it’s an increase nonetheless but still a drop in the bucket.”
Phillips also agreed that the JUTC should not get an increase as the Government should not subsidise inefficiency by granting a fare increase.
He noted that despite the size of the increase, it would also be a struggle for the public, many of whom have been affected by the pandemic.
With optics, politics, and economics considered before increases are granted, no government in power wants to be fingered as increasing bus fare even when the need is great. With the general election almost a year on, the announced increase is said to come in a “safe period” to avert a strike.
“A strike in a pandemic would be terrible for a government who rule by optics,” one taxi company owner, who did not wish to be identified, told The Gleaner last night.
In May this year, Edgerton Newman, president of the Transport Operators Development Sustainable Services, threatened that if Montague did not intervene immediately, they would go on strike. He was speaking about buses and taxis that are licensed to operate on government routes, criticising the process for rate reviews, a power that lies in the transport ministry.
The transport ministry said that a number of initiatives have been undertaken to improve service delivery in the sector, including collaborations “to help rid the sector of bad eggs by providing extensive customer-service training for operators”.
A hotline to report deviant behaviour has also been established, reports to which could result in the cancellation and suspension of road licenses and badges.
The ministry has warned operators that no additional fares should be charged and is urging the public to report overcharging to the Transport Authority at 888-991-5687 or via WhatsApp at 876-551-8196.