By John Denny
(Charlestown, Nevis) – In a show of unity against the uncompensated rise in fuel prices, Nevis bus drivers marched last Monday, July 7, through the streets and citizens trying to get to work scrambled to find a ride. Junior Minister for Public Utilities Hon. Carlisle Powell sympathizes with the bus drivers.
“We discussed this in cabinet and we have no problem with them raising their prices,” Minister Powell said. “We understand that the price of fuel went up and they need to cover their added expenses, but this is a matter that has to be addressed by the Public Utilities Commission. They are the ones who set the rates. All we can do in the administration is make the recommendation and then it is up to the Commission.”
President of the Nevis Bus Association Kurt Swanston felt the strike was their only alternative.
“We asked for a 50 cent increase before the fuel went up this last time,” Mr. Swanston said. “We waited four weeks and nothing happened. We had to do something and to strike was the only thing we could do to get anyone’s attention.”
Premier Joseph Parry and several cabinet members met with about 30 members of the Nevis Bus Association led by Mr. Swanston on Monday evening, at the Bath Hotel Conference Room.
The meeting was called to bring a solution to the strike and to provide needed relief for bus drivers.
Premier Parry regretted that the situation with the bus drivers had escalated to a strike and noted that Sunday, July 6, was the first indication he had received of their intention to take protest action.
The Public Utilities Commission, chaired by Mr. Jeffery Nisbett, had been given the authorization by Government to review each price increase request and advice the Nevis Island Administration on the views raised, but according to some of the bus drivers, Mr. Nisbett had been “dragging his feet” on the issue.
Mr. Parry explained that every step of the discussions must have the active involvement of the PUC and the NBA. The government must be involved also, but would continue to be guided by the PUC and its guidelines.
In a meeting with the PUC Chairman on July 1, the Commission held the view that it was not opposed to the increase.
However, in round robin discussions on July 7, the Commission approved a temporary increase of 50 cents per route pending a formal meeting of the PUC.
The Body also registered its regrets for the inconvenience suffered by the public and noted that the increase would not apply to persons already subjected to the higher fares.
“We provide the best bus service in the Caribbean,” said bus driver Joseph Browne. “We go off our route all the time to give people better service, but our customers need to know that our costs have gone up and we aren’t making any money the way it is. We provide a very important public service for Nevis, but if we aren’t making any money we might as well do something else.”