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Bus fares going up

Transport minister to announce increases today

BY KARYL WALKER walkerk@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, August 20, 2014    

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TRANSPORT and Works Minister Omar Davies is today expected to announce an increase in bus fares for the State-run Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) at a press conference at his ministry's Maxfield Avenue headquarters in Kingston.

The fare for children, the elderly and the disabled is likely to be increased by 100 per cent from $20 to $40, while that for adults could move from $100 to $120 or $130, a source said yesterday. The increases are expected to take effect before the September 1 official opening of the new school year.

At the same time, the JUTC will require children, the elderly and the disabled to use its Smarter Card to benefit from the concessionary fares. Those without will be required to pay the adult fare.

Bus fares were last increased by 20 per cent in September 2013, but the JUTC has continued to bleed while its operational costs have increased exponentially.

The cash-strapped company is expecting the new fare structure to be announced today to boost the coffers of the company, which has been losing some $250 million monthly.

The transport minister, in announcing higher fares for the JUTC, will be forced to look at higher fares for rural bus as well as taxi operators.

Government's plan to hike transportation cost is, however, not getting the support of the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

"Any increase at this time would be unconscionable and wicked. We will not support any such increase and reject it as an attack on the working people of Jamaica, especially single mothers who have been struggling with daily increases in the cost of living for too long now," Opposition Spokesman on Transport Horace Chang said in a release yesterday.

Chang said the plight of the poor has been compounded, considering that school fees have increased.

"Schools open in two weeks [and] this increase is another painful assault on the already empty pockets of the average Jamaican. The Government clearly has no conscience," Chang said.

Chang, at the same time, blasted the Government for ignoring a request for an audit of the JUTC.

"We requested a full audit of the JUTC, but this hasn't been done. Neither has there been any efficiency report on how the revenues from the last increase have been used. We stand with the Jamaican people on this one. We say no to this increase," he said.

Meanwhile, taxi drivers were also gearing up to increase their fares.

Head of the National Association of Taxi Operators Deon Chance said taxi drivers were awaiting today's announcement by Minister Davies with keen anticipation.

"... As far as the National Council of Taxis Association is concerned, we are watching this one with bated breath. The JUTC is bleeding red; they don't exist in a bubble. We are hoping that the minister realises that we are in the same position. They are subsidised and we are not," Chance told the Jamaica Observer last night.

Taxi drivers were last granted an increase of 25 per cent in late 2012.

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