Tertiary students group wants hold on fare increase
MONTEGO BAY, St James — President of the Jamaica Union of Tertiary Students (JUTS) Deshawn Cooke is urging the Government to rethink the 19 per cent fare increase in public transportation in the first phase, which comes into effect on Sunday October 15, 2023.
Cooke, while speaking to the Jamaica Observer, explained that JUTS was “deeply concerned” by the announcement of the fare increase four days ago. According to Cooke, the increase will pose a threat to the viability of commuters enrolled in Jamaica’s tertiary education system.
“This swift decision places tertiary students, a vital segment of our population, in a state of financial uncertainty. We, therefore, request a reconsideration of this decision,” appealed Cooke.
The union president further told the Sunday Observer that the fare increase can be viewed as “another barrier” to education by many tertiary students who are already struggling to finance their education.
“Tertiary students, who are already grappling with financial constraints, will bear the brunt of this fare hike. It threatens our students’ ability to attend classes, access educational resources, and maintain their overall well-being. For many of our students, this will limit their access to education, which is something we strongly advocate for,” Cooke said.
“While some may argue that it is a small increase, that increase may be an additional $60 per day for one student but $200 for another,” he added.
Cooke said that he has been receiving complaints from tertiary students since the announcement was made in a statement to Parliament on Tuesday by Minister of Science, Energy, Telecommunications and Transport Daryl Vaz.
“The most recent case involves a student who commutes daily from Trelawny to Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College [in St James]. She informed us that her daily taxi fare is currently $760, and this expense is already a significant financial burden. With the sudden increase in fares, she has no idea how [she], as she puts it, ‘will make ends meet’,” Cooke told the Sunday Observer.
At the same time, Cooke noted that the four-day notice before the fare increase does not give sufficient time for commuters to “adapt to this financial burden”. That, he said, should be enough basis for the Government to revisit the timeline of the increase and allow for “adequate adjustments and preparations”.
“Many students plan for the semester and to have additional expenses in the middle of any given semester may cause more harm than good,” Cooke bemoaned.
Pointing out that many students utilise the urban transit buses in the Corporate Area and St James due to the low cost associated with them, Cooke told the Sunday Observer that that mode of transportation was unreliable. In addition, the JUTS president said that the Government-run transport company does not service the entire island, so not all tertiary students have access to it.
Cooke maintained that the union is not against an increase in transportation costs, but is simply requesting more time to aid in a smoother transition and adaptation.
“While we are not contesting the rise in taxi fares, we bemoan the timeline of implementation. Furthermore, until the nuances in the publicly funded bus systems are sorted, the JUTS believes that students should not be forced into a place of discomfort because of their financial situation. As such, we are proposing that the implementation date be extended to January 1, 2024, to [allow] our students to be more prepared for such an increase,” Cooke told the Sunday Observer.
Cooke also requested that special provisions be made for tertiary students with identification cards utilising the public transportation sector. The union president said, with that provision, tertiary students would feel a lesser burden in accessing their education.
“We further recommend that the Ministry of Science, Energy, Telecommunications and Transport consider expanding the classification of students eligible for special concessions on bus fares to include tertiary students with valid IDs,” said Cooke.
He continued, “This adjustment would not only alleviate the financial burden on tertiary students but also promote accessibility to education, ultimately contributing to the nation’s academic and economic development. Inclusivity within the special fare programme would ensure that all students, regardless of their level of education, have affordable transportation options supporting their pursuit of knowledge and, by extension, Jamaica’s progress as a knowledge-driven society.”
In the meantime, Cooke said that attention should be placed on the cries and calls of tertiary students across the island in light of the fare increase.
“We appeal to the Government to initiate a transparent dialogue with student representatives and the public to identify equitable solutions. It is crucial that the concerns of our students, who represent the future of our nation, are given the utmost consideration. The Jamaica Union of Tertiary Students stands ready to actively participate in discussions aimed at addressing this multifaceted challenge,” Cooke said.
Last Tuesday, Vaz stated that the Government had granted a 35 per cent fare increase to public transport operators, which would be done in two phases — 19 per cent effective Sunday, October 15, 2023 and a further 16 per cent in April 2024. Vaz said that the fare hike was granted in a bid to cushion the impact of increased operational costs being borne by public bus and taxi operators.
He said the increase, which was approved by Cabinet, was arrived at through the subcommittee of the Public Transport Operators Steering Committee, which was mandated to formulate a collaborative proposal for revising the current fare rates.
“I am mindful that the challenges of our current economic climate affect every stratum of society, including those who have invested in the transportation industry. Hence, the subcommittee has meticulously integrated a multidimensional approach into crafting a fair and equitable fare adjustment proposal,” Vaz said on Tuesday.