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Toll hike could force civil servants to carpool, use public transport

BY JAVENE SKYERS Observer writer editorial@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, June 20, 2014    

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CIVIL servants have been encouraged to carpool and, when possible, travel on public transportation in order to cut costs, as operators of Highway 2000 get ready to increase toll rates on July 5.

Oneil Grant, president of the Jamaica Civil Services Association (JCSA) told the Jamaica Observer that the pending increase in toll rates is expected to have a serious impact government workers, whose spending powers have been cut severely over the years because of a wage freeze.

"I can only speak for public sector workers who live in Portmore and its environs; the burden they have to bear is a bit too much," said Grant. Government workers, he added, simply can't afford an increase in the toll fee next month.

Grant stated that public sector workers who live in and around Portmore have to use the road daily as the highway is the most efficient way to their destination as the option of driving around the toll is not ideal for everyone.

Grant suggested, too, that motorists could also examine the option of bypassing the toll if it is convenient for them, but for those who have to use the toll as it's easier to reach home to far places such as Hellshire, the new toll will be hard on them.

"One needs to appreciate that it does have a significant impact", said the JCSA president, who appealed to the Toll Authority to "hold on a little longer" and forgo the increase for a year, despite the legal requirements.

Grant said that he was not trying to 'beat the highway operator' over the head as asking to forgo the increase for this year would be a matter of sacrifice, reasoning and burden-sharing.

The proposed hike in the rates, he said, will would mean an additional $800 per month in toll payments for the public sector workers who drive motor cars (Class 1 vehicle). It would be a little higher for those who drive SUVs (Class 2). Grant said that while it may not seem like much to some, if the compensation levels of the salaries earned by these workers should be examined, it is a significant amount, especially since there has been no increase in the income of public sector workers.

"We hope the operators see the reason behind our pleas," said Grant, while stating that he was in the process of writing to the highway operator about the concerns of the association and the likely impact of a toll hike.

The current toll rates for the Portmore Toll Plaza are as follows: Class 1 vehicles - $150; Class 2 vehicles $230; and Class 3 vehicles $450. The proposed increase for class 1 vehicles is $170; Class 2 vehicles $260; and Class 3 vehicles $520.

"We haven't had any negative responses at all [to the proposed toll increases]," Joan Fletcher, CEO of the Toll Authority, told the Observer on Wednesday. She said responses are usually submitted to the minister of transport, works and housing for perusal.

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