‘Delay toll increase until after COVID’

MAN DEVILLE, Manchester — Some operators of public passenger vehicles in this south-central town who rely heavily on the eas t-west legs of Highway 2000 for their daily commute are appealing for a delay in the proposed toll hike.

“When they talk about increase, one of the basic things that they are not doing is gauge the public and the people who it is affecting the most. Delay the increase until after COVID, when the travelling public number increases,” bus driver Michael Robinson told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

The proposed increases, which the Ministry of Transport and Mining published yesterday, are to come into effect the first weekend of July.

The proposed rates on the east-west leg are seeing an increase between $20 and $110.

Robinson, who plies the Mandeville to Kingston route, said the weekly gas price increase, hike in maintenance cost with no fare increase is unbearable for transport operators like himself.

“At this time the increase benefits no one. It’s not going to benefit the travelling public. It’s not going to benefit the bus operators. The only person that benefits from it is the toll operator,” he said.

“My bus used to cost $14,000 to fill the tank, now when you go [Kingston] and come down it a tek $17,000, so that alone is where the petrol increases every week. It is cutting into our profit”.

“Mathematically, this bus carries 29 people so at $500 per passenger that’s $14,500 and double that for round trip is $29,000. The toll now is $3,680, you minus that. The backup man to load this [bus] is $3,000 here in Mandeville and another $3,000 a town (Kingston), so you are left at $19,320 and then you’re going to buy the petrol out of that, and you burn about half a tank. When you put round $9,000 gas is not even $11,000 lef,” he stressed.

“A lot of people believe seh it (transport) is profitable, but you haffi do [something else] basically to survive,” he added.

At the May Pen toll plaza, the proposed increase for Class 1 is from $130 to $150; Class 2 $220 to $250 and Class 3 $440 to $500.

At the Vineyard toll plaza, the proposed increase for Class 1 is from $510 to $550; Class 2 $750 to $810 and Class 3 $1,400 to $1,510.

At Portmore toll plaza, the proposed increase for Class 1 is from $260 to $290; Class 2 $420 to $470 and Class 3 $790 to $870.

At Spanish Town toll plaza, the proposed increase for Class 1 is from $190 to $210; Class 2 $290 to $320 and Class 3 $530 to $590.

Robinson lamented that people are already suffering from cost increases with essential items and the effects of COVID are still affecting profitability.

“The people who might have a job now have no increase in their salary, so we just do this to occupy our time, because there is no profit in it, especially now in COVID time,” he said.

“Before COVID you could get a one and a half trip. I have been here since 6:00 am and it’s now twelve o’ clock. Sometimes mi just go home back, because there’s no work. Sometimes a mi alone come back from town inna the bus,” he added.

Another bus driver, who plies the Mandeville to Spanish Town route, who identified himself by his alias “Platup”, said is contemplating not using the toll road.

“Right now, the toll increases are not relevant, because the fare nuh raise and fi wi go pon the toll. All of us have to come together as bus [drivers] and say we are not going to use the toll. If something isn’t done about it, we are not going to use the toll, because we can’t manage it. Look how much time tolls raise and fare nuh raise,” he said.

“Not even six month ago it was raised (sic), and it fi go raise again. That a wickedness!” he said.

Last year the previously proposed toll hike was delayed in June due to the onset of COVID-19 but came into effect on September 20.

“If is even to delay [the increase] for the rest of this year and next year we see what can happen,” said another bus driver who identified himself by his alias ‘Indian’.

The Tolling Policy Agreement, as outlined in the Concession Agreements, provides that the concessionaires may apply for an annual increase in toll tariffs.

The notice of intention to vary the toll was dated June 14, 2021 and members of the public have five days within which to provide feedback.

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