Bus drivers get $2 Million subsidy!

After several months of negotiation, the National Council on Public Transportation (NCOPT) will receive a $2 million subsidy from the government of St Lucia. The news came in on Monday via a press release from the Office of the Prime Minister.
According to the release, the government has agreed to grant a subsidy of EC$2 million dollars to minibus operators to assist in meeting the increased cost of providing public transportation, in order to avert an increase in bus fares at this time. The release further explained that the Government will make EC$1.0 million dollars available at the end of August 2012, with the balance of EC$1.0 million being disbursed at the end of November 2012.
The President of NCOPT, Godfrey Ferdinand says he welcomes news although, originally, the aim was to negotiate for fare increases. He adds that the monies will go a long way in curbing on the rising costs of minibus operation in the country.
“ The council did a good job, bearing in mind the times that we are living in and to be able to get at least $2 million dollars subsidy from the government is a great achievement for us.
“Because we got the subsidy, we cannot increase the bus fare for this year for sure. This is a decision that the council took bearing in mind that there are several factors actually affecting the operations. We have a high rate of unemployment and the operational cost of the operator has actually increased and to raise the bus fare would have caused a reduction in our commuters. So we spoke to the government and they agreed that a subsidy would be a better thing to do taking into consideration other factors such as VAT and salaries have not been raised,” said Ferdinand.
While noting that the $2 million is not enough to sustain the transportation sector, Ferdinand adds that there must be a compromise somewhere taking into consideration the state of the economy. He says the last time the council received a subsidy, a lot more was given but he believes $2 million is better off than not receiving anything at all.
In a letter to the President of the National Council on Public Transportation (NCOPT) confirming the subsidy, Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Dr Kenny Anthony emphasized government’s inability to continue to subsidize the public transportation sector indefinitely.
Dr Anthony wrote: “The Government of Saint Lucia re-emphasizes that periodic subsidies to minibus owners are unsustainable given the fiscal challenges facing the country at this time. The Government notes that between 2008 and 2012, The National Council on Public Transportation (NCOPT) would have received a total of seven million dollars (EC7.0m.) in subsidies. “Therefore, the correct approach would be to apply for any fare adjustments in the manner provided in the law.”
Ferdinand says this is a fair and reasonable statement by the Prime Minister: “I think it is a very logical thing to say. It’s the truth. If you are a private company, you would have to come up with means and ways to at least curb on your expenses. You need to have a way forward to think properly to see how you are going to sustain your own self and for us to basically depend solely, being that we are a protected market – we have the monopoly on transportation, we have to come up with better means of obtaining monies than to rely on subsidies all the time.”
According to Ferdinand, the National Council on Public Transportation intends to utilize this subsidy to establish a business to import supplies including spare parts for the use of minibus owners. The purpose of this business is to help minibus owners better control their operational costs and to ensure long term sustainability of the transportation sector. Last time the NCOPT received a subsidy was in 2008 under the UWP administration.

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