School maxi drivers in protest for rate hike
By LARA PICKFORD-GORDON Wednesday, August 21 2013
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MAXI PROTEST: Maxi-taxi school transport drivers protest in front of the Ministry of Education in St Clair, Port-of-Spain, yesterday. ...
Members of the Association of Maxi-Taxi School Transport Concessionaires of Trinidad demonstrated yesterday at the Education Ministry, Alexandra Street, St Clair, Port-of-Spain, for a $2 rate hike before the new school term starts on September 2.
The drivers provide transport to students in various areas including Cedros, Toco, Biche, Blanchisseuse, and a few places on the east-west corridor. Their rates range from $3.70/seat to $5.70/seat and higher for more distant areas. They want their rates to be on par with other maxi-taxis plying these routes.
Speaking with the media yesterday morning, association President Rodney Ramlogan said discussions have been taking place with the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) since March last year. The last contract between the corporation and the drivers expired at the end of September 2011. In 2009, concessionaires got a 70 cents per seat increase.
“Now that the new budget is around the corner, what PTSC has been saying (is that) the increase would be in the budget. When I asked what guarantee, they say no guarantee,” Ramlogan said. He accused PTSC of “forcing” two-year contracts on drivers at the old rates, but said the association got an amendment to a clause in which the corporation agreed to revise rates upwards “when an increase was implemented.”
Ramlogan said the association heard that the ministry had not received a proposal for a rate increase from the association, although letters were sent to the Education Ministry and Transport Ministry on the issue. If there is no resolution over the next few weeks, there could be a service disruption. Ramlogan said it was up to the membership to decide on further action.
Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh came out of his office and met with the drivers, assuring them, he would work with Transport Minister Chandresh Sharma to arrive at a solution.
“You think it is right after 20 years we should get 70 cents raise on a child?” a driver asked Gopeesingh. He replied, “I can only speak for three years. I cannot speak for 20 years.”
Gopeesingh has asked for a report to be submitted by yesterday evening on the number of maxi-taxi operators and the salaries they receive.
“Mr Sharma has promised to assist you all as soon as possible. I promise to assist you as soon as possible. We will meet and together make a final determination.”
A driver informed Gopeesingh that in making a determination, the ministry should know there was a 90 to 100 percent increase in car parts, insurance, mechanic fees, tyres in 2008-2009.
Gopeesingh said the issue should be resolved within a month. He said $50 million was allocated for school transport, but if after costing it came up to“a little more” the ministry would seek support from the Finance Ministry for the new fiscal year.
Asked what contingency plan would be implemented if the drivers refused to sign the contract, Gopeesingh was confident they would sign.
The drivers shook Gopeesingh’s hand and were pleased with the outcome of the discussion, but they still planned to proceed with their demonstration outside the PTSC compound, South Quay, Port-of-Spain.
Contacted for comment, PTSC Marketing and Communications Manager Carl Ramdeo said the corporation was in talks with the ministry for a rate increase and was awaiting feedback. A desk was set up at PTSC offices in Port-of-Spain and San Fernando to deal with contracts.
PTSC Operations Manager Brian Juanette said drivers had been working on month-to-month contracts since the last two-year agreement expired in 2011 and, recognising that the contracts had to be dealt with, PTSC offered a two-year agreement. Juanette said of the 317 drivers working, more than half had signed.