…as captains pull operation over outstanding payments
During the past week the Berbice River taxis have reportedly stopped working the Rosignol to New Amsterdam route for the reason that they have been denied payments of some $6M.
Kaieteur News was made aware of the situation and found out that the river taxis ceased operations on Monday last. The captains of the two boats serving the area have been receiving slow payments from the Transport and Harbours Department (T&HD) of the Ministry of Public Infrastructure, according to reports.
The two boats were contracted by the government through T&HD to work the route after the Berbice Bridge Company refused to lower its tolls.
School children and pensioners are allowed to use the service free of cost while other passengers pay $140. The arrangement is that the boat operators would be paid weekly. Currently the boats operated from 06:00hrs to 21:30hrs.
This newspaper understands that efforts to receive the outstanding payments which were met with excuses from the T&HD.
Apparently officials from the department informed the operators some time last year that they were awaiting subsidies before making payments. When that was received, operators were told that they had to wait until the budget would have been passed.
As a result of the boats refusing to work, some children have not been able to attend school regularly since their parents are finding it difficult to afford to pay the bus fare to cross the bridge.
When the boats were first introduced, persons using the service had expressed their relief and hoped that it would continue.
When contacted about the issue yesterday, Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson said that he is not aware of the particular problem.
However, the minister informed that the T&HD will be procuring two speedboats to start plying the said route.
He was asked whether the two boats would replace or complement the two contracted boats. To this he said that the T&HD fleet would replace the hired boats.
Patterson could not say when these boats will be brought on stream but he assured they will be used as soon as they are finished.
As it relates to what could have forced this decision, Patterson said that it was as a result of a request made by resident of New Amsterdam and Rosignol. He said that his ministry has agreed to continue the speedboat service and as such thought it made better sense to own and control the boats.
Last April, Junior Minister of Public Infrastructure, Annette Ferguson, had said that T&HD was to carry out a feasibility study on the use of the river taxis across the river.
After that study, it was to be decided whether the service would be retained.
Minibus operators had objected to the move saying it would bring financial strain despite the reduction in the toll price.
In 2015, the use of river taxis on the Berbice River was introduced as a pilot project intended to assist students and the elderly due to the high fares to cross the bridge. Some of the tolls have been reduced but not significantly. As of September 1, 2015 the toll for passenger cars and buses was reduced from $2200 to $1900 and the tolls for other types of vehicles were expected to be reduced by 10 percent.
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