By Fareeza Haniff
[www.inewsguyana.com] – The APNU+AFC government has decided to introduce a River Taxi Service for residents on the West and East Bank of Berbice, which is in direct response to the refusal of officials from the Berbice Bridge Company to reduce the tolls of the Berbice River Bridge.
Government had announced a reduced toll structure which was slated to take effect on September 01, but the officials from the Company refused to implement it on the grounds that millions of dollars will be lost to investors and government did not consult with them.
The administration is providing a monthly subsidy to the Company to compensate for the loss, but this too was refused, resulting in a stalemate between the two sides.
Minister of State, Joseph Harmon told a post Cabinet media briefing on Friday, September 04, 2015 that the proposal for the river taxi was made by Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson and it was approved by Cabinet following “extensive” discussion.
The service will cater specifically to students and the elderly population.
“Cabinet approved the establishment of a river taxi service, primarily to allow for the students and the elderly who are affected in large measure by the refusal of the Berbice Bridge Company Inc to accept the government’s proposal for a lowering of the toll,” Harmon told the news conference.
He further noted that Cabinet has mandated Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan to continue discussions with officials from the Company to ensure the reduction of the toll.
“We are of the firm belief that very soon the Bridge Company, who indicated that they had referred the matter to the shareholders of the Company, that they will see the light and agree to have the toll reduced,” the Minister of State said.
He explained that government will provide the infrastructure and the regulatory framework for the implementation of the service; there will also be a pilot project and depending on the outcome, government will authorize the use of a large number of the vessels.
He made it clear that the administration will not be providing the vessels Government will not provide the vessels and a committee, comprising of representatives from the Ministries of Education, Social Cohesion, Public Security and Public Infrastructure will travel to Berbice this weekend to put in place the necessary arrangements for the passengers.
“Our focus will be ensuring the school children and the elderly get an opportunity to cross…at a reduced cost. It is our business in government to ensure that the general public…who cannot afford higher fares, that they are given this subsidy by the State,” Harmon said.
It is not yet clear how soon this service will be implemented.