As bus drivers mull over a fare increase as a result of the recent hike in fuel prices, the police have stated that no approval has been made or granted for increase in fares and cautioned against this offense.
On March 11, 2022, prices of petroleum products increased from $13.95 per gallon of gasoline to $14.89, diesel from $12.95 to $13.91, kerosene $11.31 to $12.81 and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) from $37.85 to $39.00.
This, of course, is due to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent fallout which has seen Russia hit with heavy sanctions from several territories, and global uncertainty shaking the fuel industry.
Director of Trade, Matthan Walter has since stated that these prices are not locally motivated, but based on global trends, and Dominica therefore, as a non-producer, adjusted its pricing structure.
However, according to the bus drivers, plying their usual route has now become an exercise in futility as their operations have been severely impacted and an already burdened “unsustainable” service further strained.
Speaking to Dominica News Online (DNO), President of the Combine Taxi Association, Phillip Guiste, stated that calls for fare increases by the bus drivers and other taxi operators are justified to offset some of the added costs placed on them.
“The last time we had an increase in bus fare was when the price of fuel was at $14.08 or so and that was a few years ago. Now, the fuel price has surpassed that figure as it is now $14.89 a gallon, so I think the price increase right now is something that needs to be considered so that the bus drivers can break even on their expense,” Guiste said.
He further stated that an increase in freight has also hiked maintenance costs of the bus operators’ vehicles.
“The tires are more expensive, oil, and even parts we purchase to repair our vehicles. So we are not saying that only the increase in fuel should generate an increase but all other factors must be considered.”
A Mahaut bus driver who DNO spoke to says while they are concerned about the financial impact of a fuel price hike, they are equally worried about the potential impact on the pockets of their customers.
“We understand that a price increase of 50 cent or so will put pressure on some people but we ourselves cannot drive a bus whole day and not have enough money at the end to pay the loans for the same bus or bring something home to our families,” he argued.
Other bus drivers who spoke to DNO voiced displeasure with the fact that there were no immediate plans announced to buffer the impact, particularly on the public transport system, which they say has been struggling for nearly two years due to the ongoing pandemic.
“The government should be stepping onto the frontline to absorb the rising fuel costs, if not for all the motorists, then at least for the bus drivers because we have been feeling the brunt of the pandemic for so long,” one bus driver remarked. “Is either that or the price must increase.”
“Everyone saying bus drivers get a stimulus package so we should not ask for bus prices to be increased but as we get the money, it finish. We have to drive on the same miserable road every day which causing more damage to our vehicle, everything go up and we working at a loss. We have no help from the government so just like how employees in their workplace asking for an increase we can do it too, we deserve it,” another driver explained.
Even now that the bus drivers have been allowed to return to pre-Covid capacity, they say the increased fuel costs will only eat back into the earnings they have long been anticipating, and for most, operating their vehicles is their main source of income.
A Portsmouth bus driver warned that if the response to their demands for a price increase is not favorable, they could embark on some type of protest action to express their discontent.
“I hope it doesn’t come to that, but we have to do what we must to feed our family,” he stated.
While discussions continue among the bus drivers, the police say they have received no formal request for an increase in fare and such action would be unlawful.
Acting Superintendent of Police Leanna Edwards said in a statement which she read on behalf of the Chief of Police who is the Chairman of the Dominica Transport Board, that the board had been made aware of increased bus fare rates in certain communities in Dominica.
“Let me inform the bus drivers that there is a process by which bus fares are increased. The Vehicle and Road Traffic Act number 46:50 of the laws of the Commonwealth of Dominica 2017 indicates that the Transport Board has to advise on transport rates, fares, tolls, dues or other charges. Consequently, there must be engagement with the Dominica Transport Board where a formal request is made,” she said.
Edwards further averred that discussions and consultation must take place and a recommendation is then made for consideration and approval based on these engagements.
“It is an offense for a bus driver to make commuters pay an increase in bus fares without the required approval. I therefore request that the public report on any incident where increased rates are demanded of them,” Edwards advised..
The Acting Superintendent encouraged bus drivers to make a formal request to the Dominica Transport Board for any rate change desired.