There have been a lot of disgruntled rumblings about the pending fare increase from $2.00 to $3.50 in Bim, especially as it relates to the impact it will have on the average Joe or Jolene, in the working class. Many people’s take home pay may range from $200-$350 a week, and so adding the extra $15/week ($60/month) if your daily trip to work is one bus going and coming, or the extra $30/week ($120/month) if your daily trip is two buses going and coming, can eat into what for some is an already taking cost-benefit factor. That could mean that some peoples take home could dwindle to high $100s-200s, or low $300s, not taking into consideration to maintain the basic necessities of life like food, shelter, and clothing. Let’s not even factor children into the picture…yet.
Given the back lash and ongoing disgruntlement at this change, let’s look at the context- bus fares have not increased or moved at the rate of inflation for over 10 years. Put simply, we have been fortunate not to have that occur. Now, it seems like the government is trying to play catch-up, with a financial move that feels and seems sudden, without regard for the “poor man,” and without regard for “poor families” that are barely making ends meet as is. There is no doubt that the cost of living in Bim is high- that cannot be argued. However, to (what feels like) spring this change on all Bajans, especially to the extent that it is- almost double the cost- I would argue is unreasonable and a complete disregard for those it will affect the harshest.
To be clear, most people who ride the bus do it because of primarily 1 of 2 things, or due to both: 1) they have to- it’s their only mode of transportation, or 2) they cannot afford to get around any other way and are limited to the predictability (or lack thereof especially in country and rural areas) of public transportation. If some are lucky, going to and from work requires one trip to and one trip from, whilst for others it is two trips to and two trips from. To spring this change in fare is not fair. So, what next then to make the $1.50 fare hike equitable? Here’s where solutions come in as this is something I have been ruminating on for a while- some may agree, some may not, and either is fine.
1.Transfer/Connector pass and ticketing system– first, to be eligible for transfer/connector passes, the commuter would have to go to the Department of Transportation every 6 months, to verify that they are 1. employed, and 2. show certified proof of weekly/bi-weekly/monthly income total. They would then be issued a distinct “Commuter ID/pass” that must be shown to the driver/conductor every time they enter the vehicle, specifically when they are requesting a transfer, to verify that they are eligible for the transfer/connector ticket. Now that we have that out of the way. This option would be for those whose take home is below a specific threshold- let’s use $200/week for the sake of argument. This means- anyone that takes home that amount or less each week would be eligible for a bus transfer/connector ticket when they enter the bus, show their pass, and pay, which can then only be used once. How would it work? See specific examples below:
Commuter with take home of $200 or less, and that takes one bus to work and one bus home- They pay $3.50 without a transfer or $5 with a transfer request, when boarding the bus to go to work. They would show the driver/conductor their commuter pass, and request a transfer, paying the $5. The bus driver/conductor issues them a valid transfer ticket that is dated after seeing the commuter pass. They can then use that transfer to board the bus on their return home from work, so the amount they pay in total, if they use the transfer, would be only $1 more daily than in the past, unless they lose their ticket, which would then mean they would have to pay $3.50 to get home. When they board the bus home, the ticket they got when they were going to work, is taken by the driver/conductor so it cannot be reused. If they lose it, they lose it and would have to pay the full fare when returning home. This would occur daily. In essence, instead of someone that is low-income (who takes one bus to work and one bus home) having to shell out $7/day now, instead of the $4/day based on what the fares were, they would now be paying $5 daily (with a transfer request), barring them losing/misplacing their transfer ticket. This would go for mini-buses, ZR’s, and transport board buses.
Commuter with take home of $200 or less, and that takes 2 buses to work and 2 buses home- They would pay $5 when boarding the first bus to go to work and request a transfer ticket after showing their commuter pass/id that was issued by the Department of Transportation. The dated transfer ticket would be generated, and then the commuter could use the transfer ticket for the second lap of their commute to work. When they enter the second bus heading to work, the driver/conductor would take the ticket so it cannot be used again. The same would be applicable for the commute home. In essence, instead of spending the new $14/day to get to work, they would be spending $10, which wouldn’t be as heavy of a hit for them daily. This would go for mini-buses, ZR’s, and transport board buses.
2. Subsidized fares – this would be for the amount above the $2.00, so the $1.50 each way, and would be specifically for those making under a certain amount, with proof of income being renewed every 6 months or annually, e.g.- those whose weekly take home is $200 or less after taxes would be eligible for subsidized fares. With their ability to have it swiped or scanned daily, with it being restricted to 2 swipes/scans, contingent on how many buses you take to and from work. The subsidy would come in the form of a debit card or a card that can be scanned for the difference, with a monthly cap on how many times it can be swiped each way (to and from work) to avoid misuse and abuse.
3. Targeted monthly stipend– for those making under a certain amount, with a monthly cap, e.g.- if you make less than $200 as take home pay, you will get a stipend of, for example, $100/month if you take 2 buses to and 2 buses from work, and $40/month if you take 1 bus to and 1 bus from work, and that cannot be rolled over to the next month or that cannot be used more than 2-4 times each day based on how many buses it takes to get to work and back. The stipend would come in the form of a debit card or a card that can be scanned, not cash (which means our public transportation payment systems on-board would need to be technologically updated), and the stipend amount would replenish/start over each month, with it having to be renewed every 6 months of annually by showing proof of employment.
This is what I would suggest to make the transition a little easier and palatable for those most impacted, with the idea that the stipend and subsidy options would phase out after 1 year, to give people time to transition financially to the new fare rates. Agree? Disagree? Reasonable? Unreasonable? Thoughts?