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Opposition plans street protest as Gov't announces bus fare hike

Opposition urges commuters to reject fare increase

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, August 21, 2014    

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THE Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) says that it will not back down from its position that increased bus fares announced yesterday cannot be justified and should not be implemented.

"Plain and straight, we not supporting it. It is a travesty, a grave injustice, inconsiderate, and wicked for the Government to come to the country with another fare increase (at this time)," Opposition Leader Andrew Holness told a press briefing at the JLP's Belmont Road headquarters in Kingston.

In answers to further questions from the media, Holness said that the JLP was not talking about a "rollback" (after the implementation) of the newly announced fares, which are to take effect on Sunday, but on the Government not implementing the increases at all.

"We are not asking for a roll back; we say don't put it on," a fiery Holness told the media.

Holness also announced plans to stage a mass rally in Half-Way-Tree to oppose the introduction of the new fares if the Government insists on going ahead with the increases.

"If I am the only man standing up in Half-Way-Tree against it, I will be standing up in Half-Way-Tree against it. All those who want to join me listen out for it," he said.

The Opposition leader also warned the commuting public that if they accept the increases announced yesterday morning by Minister of Transport, Works and Housing Dr Omar Davies -- approximately one year after the previous increase-- it would become the norm for the fares to be increased annually.

Meanwhile, the Opposition spokesman on transport, Dr Horace Chang, described the increases as "cruel and unconscionable".

"An increase should not have come at a time like this when we have not seen any action taken to ensure that the mismanagement of the company is overcome," he remarked.

Holness said that Davies and the management of the JUTC had not justified an increase at this time, and that using the argument that the company would be forced to close without an increase in fares provided no rationale.

He noted that Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis had done an audit of the JUTC's operations, which was released in December 2013. That audit showed a number of areas of inefficiency in the operation of the company and made recommendations to improve its efficiency.

Holness, at the same time, said that Davies has shown a lack of respect for the consumers by failing to explain what had been done since the release of the auditor general's report to tackle the issues that were listed and to implement the recommendations which were offered before seeking an increase in fares.

Dr Chang pointed out that a legacy plan had been completed by former Transport Minister Mike Henry, which was aimed at making the company viable, and to expand it into a national service to include schoolchildren in rural areas.

Questioned as to whether the JLP was playing "cheap politics" with the fare increases, an obviously angry Holness responded that he has gone to "great lengths" to promote himself as a "different type" of politician.

"I have demonstrated to Jamaica that whatever is in the national interest, even if it has a political cost to me, I will support. I don't play cheap politics," he told the press.

And, asked whether there was any chance of seeking an injunction against the implementation of the fare hikes, he said that would be up to the legal advice of the party's lawyers.

However, he said that the JLP senators would continue to pursue the issue, where the regulation of the public transport sector had been removed from the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) in June based on an order made by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, without consulting with stakeholders, including the OUR.

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