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LETTER OF THE DAY - Improve and expand public transportation system

Published:Saturday | January 30, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The Editor, Sir:

The recent disclosure that, as one of the pre-conditions for an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) the Government intends to hike bus fares by a whopping 40 per cent effective April 1 of this year, should be of grave concern to every well-thinking Jamaican.

Based on Government's announcements, a significant portion of the IMF loan, of approximately US$1.2 billion, will be used to pay for oil imports. A major slice of this import is used to fuel private motor vehicles. To borrow for this purpose is clearly not sustainable. This is simply a case where the country is living above its means. The money received should be invested in areas that will either earn or save us foreign exchange.

To correct this problem, the Government needs to take the necessary steps to expand and improve the public transportation system. A used public transportation system by the populace - inclusive of railway service - will greatly reduce the nation's consumption of petrol. This will reduce the demand for foreign exchange for this purpose.

Given the financial dilemma that the country is in, the Government should, therefore, be encouraging the use of a public transportation system, and discouraging the non-essential use of private motor vehicles. To achieve this, instead of increasing fares to augment the bus company's revenue so as to make it less reliant on Government's subsidy to finance its operation, Government should increase the road-licence fees on private motor vehicles. The increase revenue from this source should be used to subsidise public transportation.

The above measure would certainly see a shift from the ownership of private motor vehicles to the use of public transportation, which is what the present economy would be more able to afford at this time. This increased tax on private motor vehicles would also assist in removing many of the illegal taxi operators from JUTC-franchised routes, because they would be less able to compete due to their increased operational costs. This will result in increased revenue for the bus company.

The present users of the public transportation system are often hard-pressed to find the current fares. As such, any increase at this time will be unbearable to many. This could result in serious conflicts between passengers and bus crews over the payment of fares on buses. There could also be other social fallout, such as the negative impact on school attendance and all the other consequential social ills that that would trigger.

Increasing bus fares at this time is a wrong move. We should instead, be encouraging the use of the public transportation system, and can only do so by making it more affordable to all. Any increase in fares at this time will only result in a deepening of our economic and social woes. What we need are solutions, not a worsening of our problems.

I am, etc.,