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GOB authorizes standard bus fares

New “across-the-board” $0.10-mile rate ends confusion between Transport Ministry and Bus Association; new prices still being worked out

BELIZE CITY, Fri. Sept. 28, 2012

Following a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, September 25, the Government of Belize announced that bus transport providers must comply with a decision to standardize bus fares across the board at 10 cents per mile for commuters.

A press release from the Ministry of Works and Transport on September 26 had announced that a rate table for major destinations would be released that day, but so far none has been forthcoming.

Members of the Belizean Bus Association (BBA) were clamoring for an overall increase, citing higher cost of living and greater cost of equipment in the 20 years since the last statutory instrument on bus fares was signed. They also complained of preferential treatment for international companies such as Mexico’s ADO, which has been running for one year in Belize without their agreement being formally written up.

Today, the CEO in the Ministry, Dwight Tillett, told Amandala that they are continuing to work on the rate schedule and expect to have it finished by the end of next week for Cabinet’s perusal.

According to Tillett, the hold-up is related to their gathering raw data from far-flung parts of the country such as western Toledo and southeastern Corozal District, where in some cases competing providers differ by as much as 30 to 40 percent on bus fares.

The standardization means commuters in some areas may see a drop in prices. This is especially true in the South, where the Southern Highway has been upgraded but prices to destinations such as Dangriga, Placencia, Independence and Punta Gorda remain high since there has been no update to the rate schedule in two decades.

Tillett gave us one example of commuters from Maya Center, located nineteen miles from Dangriga Town, paying as much as six dollars for a trip that should cost them only one-third as much, two dollars.

The Department, says Tillett, wants to have the entire schedule out for all to see. He told us that the Association was unable to back up its statement that a statutory instrument or agreement existed charging 10 cents per mile and prematurely raised fares from Belize City to Belmopan last weekend to five dollars, which is the standard rate and would not change under the new law, from four dollars, where it had been artificially lowered during the days of fierce competition.

On Wednesday, September 19, president of the Belize Bus Association (BBA) Thomas Shaw and Minister of State with responsibility for Transport, Edmond Castro, met over the Association’s demands earlier in the week that the Ministry increase fares and meet their requests for exemptions for needed items in their industry.

The Association had been saying before that meeting that a copy of that agreement in the form of a statutory instrument (SI) existed, but Minister Castro told Amandala last Monday that “no such S.I. existed” and the proposed first phase of increases, which took effect on September 22, was and is “illegal.”

“We told them in the meeting – and Mr. Shaw was there – that if there was an S.I., saying ten cents a mile, if there was a letter signed by a previous Minister saying ten cents a mile, then we would honor it, but in lieu of such an S.I. or such a letter there is no way we can agree. We need to go through the proper procedure to get that in law,” the Minister told Amandala.

As for other demands such as exemptions for fuel, tires and so on, the Minister said those could be looked into at a later time.

In the Minister’s telephone interview with Amandala on September 24, he accused BBA’s spokesman, Patrick Menzies, of lying about the substance of the conversation he and Commissioner of Transport, Crispin Jeffries, had with Thomas Shaw when he told the press on September 20 that the Minister had agreed that “…it is not illegal to raise the fares or to adjust the fares…”, additionally saying, “they do see a need, both the Minister and the Commissioner [Jeffries], they see that need for the price adjustment that we are looking for…”.

Other matters raised at the September 19 meeting include a member of the Association being placed on the Transport Board, which Menzies pointed the press to in Chapter 230, the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic Act, as amended by S.I. 41 of 2002 which establishes a Transport Board to which “a member [who is a] public transport provider” should be appointed, but there is none presently on the Board.

Menzies reported on September 20 that Mexico’s ADO bus service is charging Belizeans $19 from Belize City to Chetumal, Quintana Roo, compared to $13 by local services, without a written agreement in place. The Association, he said, wants things to be fair across the board and is prepared to enforce the Ministry’s regulations among its members.

Regarding ADO, Tillett told us meetings are being planned with their Mexican counterparts on various issues relating to cross-border transportation with buses and taxis and they are currently gathering key information in advance of those meetings and added that prices are only one of the matters being brought up on the agenda.

Last Monday, September 24, we were told that commuters in the Northern Zone made multiple complaints to the Transport Department in Belize City of a sudden and unauthorized hike in prices.

A resident of Sandhill, Belize District, had told us that her mother and other commuters paid $3.00 traveling from Belize City to Sandhill this morning on a Belize Bus Owners’ Cooperative (BBOC) bus, when the standard fare for a 20-mile journey is $2.00.

Menzies at that time confirmed that there was no such increase and asked that we give the Sandhill resident Shaw’s number so that he, Shaw, could speak to that person.

Later, the Sandhill resident met with the Transport officer (who declined comment to us because he said he needed authority from his superiors in Belmopan to speak) and was connected with the manager of the BBOC, who told her that an investigation would be launched and also confirmed that no such increase was announced.

Minister Castro also told us of a report from Biscayne that customers there were charged $4 by a bus service whose name he did not give.

The Department and Ministry have recently established hotlines for consumer service. The main hotline for calls and text messages is 637-1070, while the emergency text hotline is 637-1075, and they are available 24 hours per day to relay information on activities on the nation’s highways.

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