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Apr 16, 2002

Transport Commissioner: Some bus fares illegal

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Last week we were treated to a memorable press conference by bus owners, in which fifty percent fare hikes were called “adjustments” and the advent of better roads was bemoaned as causing more wear on the buses’ tires. Today, in that same perverse spirit of double-talk and obfuscation, government’s top transport official informs us that on many runs the bus owners are charging too much–but declines to say what the correct fares should be. News 5′s Janelle Chanona, who’s covered both sides of the issue, has been trying to pick sense out of nonsense.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting

Today Belize’s many bus riders may have paid the new prices announced by the country’s transport companies, but according to Commissioner of Transport, Glen Arthurs, a number of those fares are unlawful.

Glen Arthurs, Commissioner of Transport

“In some of the cases, some of them are above the maximum rate that is on their permit. And that is why we have issued a letter to them to tell them that they must stay within the rates given to them.”

Janelle Chanona

“So what is the next step for the bus operators and the Ministry of Transport?”

Glen Arthurs

“The concern that the Transport Department has is that the National Bus Owners Organisation is to make an application to the Department of Transport with their concerns about bus fares. And the Department of Transport, using a machinery that we have within, which is the Transport Advisory Council, will do a study and will produce a new fare list.”

Janelle Chanona

“And that didn’t happen here?”

Glen Arthurs

“In this case it was not done.”

Janelle Chanona

“While Commissioner Arthurs declined to get into the specifics, News 5 has been made to understand that the regulated bus fares for journeys between Belmopan and Belize City on a regular bus is four dollars, therefore the new rate of five dollars per trip is illegal.”

And that’s only one example. Remember the frequent use of the word “adjustment” at the bus operators press conference last Friday? It’s just become clear why they would want to stick to that terminology…legally they can charge the price cap stated on their road service permit, or anything below that because any change resulting in higher prices is not allowed.

Glen Arthurs

“As far as I understand, it was an adjustment of the fares. We issue permits to all routes, and the bus owners have permits that have the rates on it. And each permit tells you the fare you should charge from one point to another point from A to B. And if they are charging less than the fares which is on that permit, then they can adjust up to the fares that are on the permit.”

Janelle Chanona

“How will the department go about monitoring the fares to make sure that they stay within their road service permits?”

Glen Arthurs

“We will be monitoring buses countrywide and we’ll be getting information if they are charging more than the rates on their permits. And we’re hoping that the bus owners, or the National Bus Owners Organisation representative will come in to the Department of Transport to discuss their concerns.”

Arthurs says the department is cognisant of factors such as rises in fuel prices and insurance rates, but says the bus operators should have followed procedure because illegal practices have serious consequences.

Glen Arthurs

“If they charge more than they should on the permit, then their permit can be revoked.”

While there is no fixed equation used by the Department of Transport to regulate fares, according to Commissioner Arthurs, the department uses a rate, as per regulation 120 enacted in 1992, of approximately nine cents per mile for the Stann Creek and Toledo Districts, and all other parts of the country are approximately seven cents a mile. But as even he admits, not all bus permits issued stick to those numbers.

Janelle Chanona

“So I’m sorry, but I’m not able to tell you how much you ought to pay on the bus tomorrow because Commissioner Arthurs won’t tell me what the regulated fares for the other bus runs are. Reporting for News 5, I am Janelle Chanona.”

According to Commissioner Arthurs, the Department of Transport and the bus operators will be meeting to discuss this issue later this week.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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