The National Council on Public Transportation (NCOPT) says it has received Transport Minister Stephenson King’s assurances that the government will soon be disbursing over $1M in COVID-19 income support to the minibus operators.
The cash will assist the public transport sector in meeting the operational challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have been given the assurance from the Minister of Transport that we will be getting that support very soon,” NCOPT President Godfrey Ferdinand told St Lucia Times.
Ferdinand explained that the measure is in a cabinet conclusion dated April 12, 2021, which outlined a sum of $1.04 million.
“That means that each operator will be getting roughly around $800 for now, and that is for a period of time and not for the entire close to 2 years of the pandemic. The government is looking to see how they can give additional support. During the discussion, we will know what the additional support will be,” he told St Lucia Times.
However, Ferdinand said that the period the cash would cover still has to be resolved as the government’s proposal is one year while the NCOPT’s preference is six months.
“We will get the payment but in terms of what period it will cover is the issue,” he stated.
According to Ferdinand, the NCOPT will pay its member associations, which will, in turn, pay bus operators who are association members. The council has twenty-eight member associations and four non-affiliates.
Ferdinand has defended the government’s income support to the public transport sector, asserting that the industry is currently operating at a loss.
“Ours is a service industry even though somehow the country does not always treat us like that. With a service industry, if we were to pull out our service – transportation moves the economy, without that, there is a shutdown of economic activity,” he observed.
Ferdinand recalled that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the bus sector had been asked to operate with the intention that they would receive income support.
“We do not control fares. The government controls fares – that is why we are supposed to be paid income support,” the NCOPT President explained.
“And if the government were the one running that sector, they would have to subsidise that sector during this period,” he told St Lucia Times.
Ferdinand also explained that the NCOPT has had fruitful discussions with the Minister of Transport regarding the public transport sector, including shared plans for upgrading its service and efficiency.