Regional Air Travel Prohibitive – MUST be Prioritised by Do-little Governments

The indefatigable social commentator @KammieHolder tagged the blogmaster recently on a Facebook comment to highlight an issue he was having at the time with intra regional travel. The following interesting article written by @BrianSamuel posted to Caribbean Journal severl years ago was the result. The content is as relevant today as it was when it was written – Blogmaster


The Case for an Eastern Caribbean Ferry

By Caribbean Journal Staff 

By S Brian Samuel
Op-Ed Contributor

There’s no cheap travel within the Caribbean. Unlike Greece and other island archipelagos, virtually all travel within the Caribbean is by air. And as we all know, travelling by air within the Caribbean is, to put it mildly, “challenging”. For starters it costs a fortune to fly. As at mid-2014, average LIAT air fares were more than four times higher than intra-European air fares, on a per-mile basis. It often costs more to fly to a neighbouring Caribbean island than to New York.

Between 2010 and 2014, LIAT’s average fares increased by about 40 percent. It would be tempting to put this increase down to higher fuel prices; but sadly, this is not the case. Although global oil prices did increase over this period; given that fuel generally accounts for no more than half of an airline’s operating costs; it is evident that “something else” has been driving up LIAT’s prices. Whatever the reason, it is the beleaguered Caribbean traveller that bears the cost.

Not only that – it takes forever. Last month I did six takeoffs and landings in one day, to get from Trinidad to Saint Thomas. This was a new world record, for me at any rate. Six flights by themselves wouldn’t be so bad but it’s all the palaver in between. You get off the plane, get strip searched in the transit lounge; then get back on the same plane. It’s enough of a hassle when things go right; not to mention when things go wrong. As it does. Often.

We don’t visit each other. Our politicians talk endlessly about Caribbean unity; yet at the border we’re given the third degree. Only a small percentage of intra-regional travellers are on holiday; most are flying because they have to. It’s therefore not surprising that intra-Caribbean travel has been declining: LIAT’s passenger numbers have shrunk from 1.1 million in 2008 to 850,000 in 2013. Despite this falloff in its revenue base, LIAT last year invested US$260 million in a complete replacement of its fleet, switching from the tried and trusted Dash-8 to ATRs. Would you invest US$260 million of your own money into such a failing airline? Congratulations; you just did; LIAT’’s loans are all guaranteed by its government shareholders.

Yet we’ve got plenty of reasons to visit each other. The Caribbean has no shortage of carnivals, festivals, regattas or dozens of other reasons to have a riproaringly wanton time for a few days – these are but a few:

CARIBBEAN FESTIVALS: WHEN Party Time Is All The Time

  1. Trinidad Carnival –           Feb/March
  2. Dominica Carnival –           Feb/March
  3. Carriacou Maroon Festival –           April
  4. St Lucia Jazz Festival –           May
  5. St Kitts Music Festival –           June
  6. St Lucia Carnival –           July
  7. Barbados Cropover –           Early August
  8. Carriacou Regatta –           Early August
  9. Grenada Carnival –           Mid-August
  10. St Kitts Carnival –           December

You cannot buy a seat for love nor money. During carnival time in the Caribbean (i.e. most of the time), air travel in the region becomes murderous; because heaven forbid that LIAT would do something as radical as putting on extra flights in response to regional demand spikes. Every year a Trinidadian ferry does a special charter for Grenada Carnival; and every year it’s filled to the gills. But for most of the year we do not travel – because we can’t afford to. This is when we are crying out for a ferry.

We talk about sports tourism; yet it is prohibitively expensive to send sporting teams on tour in the Caribbean. This year the English cricket team – and their fanatical followers the Barmy Army – will descend on the Caribbean. And all the games are being played in the Eastern Caribbean. Can you imagine a creatively packaged ferry tour, catering to boisterous English cricket fans, following their team around the Caribbean? They would love it! Instead, we deliver them into the arms of LIAT – and say a prayer. This is when we are crying out for a ferry.

There are dozens of regional events, where attendance would undoubtedly be much greater, were it not for the high travel costs involved. Church groups, youth groups, community groups – just about any group of Caribbean people love to go on an “outing”. We used to go on outings to neighbouring islands, by inter-island schooners. We don’t do that anymore; nowadays we fly. Or rather we don’t fly; because it costs too much. There are family connections between all the islands of the Eastern Caribbean; everyone has that that they have not seen for too long. Repeat: this is when we are crying out for a ferry.

But wait, we DO have ferries. Indeed, there are 11 ferry companies currently operating in the Eastern Caribbean, running a total of 21 boats. These range from modern fast roll-on roll-off (Ro-Ro) ships that accommodate passengers, cars and trucks; to rusty old cargo “schooners” So, the question has to be asked: If there is this crying need for inter-island ferry services, why don’t more ferry companies offer cross-border services?

“It’s a nightmare!” say the ferry operators; with regard to the bureaucracy, cost and time involved in taking a vessel from one island to another. Only one company, L’Express des Iles out of Martinique, operates across international borders. All the other ferries stick within their national boundaries: Trinidad to Tobago; Grenada to Carriacou; St. Vincent to the Grenadines, etc.

The problem stems from the archaic, cumbersome rules regulating international marine trading in the Caribbean. These rules desperately need to be simplified and harmonized, so that all regional jurisdictions will be reading from the same book – literally.

Ferries are cheaper than flying. The average fare charged by the 11 ferry companies in the Eastern Caribbean works out to US$1.06 per mile. This is about 65 percent of the average cost per mile of LIAT fares, as at mid-2014.

Speed is expensive. One of the main determinants of ferry fares is the speed of the vessel. Fares charged by the region’s fast ferry operators are almost twice as high as the traditional slow boats. Sailing time between Trinidad and Grenada is 6 hours at 15 knots, and 4.5 hours at 20 knots. However, that additional 5 knots would result in a doubling of the fare – speed is expensive in boats.

Ferries are for short distances. Realistically, ferry voyages should be no more than about 4 to 5 hours duration; unless they are overnight trips. You have to take account of sea conditions. Hence, it is not feasible to consider a ferry route from Trinidad to Barbados; otherwise the boat would earn the same nickname as one particularly uncomfortable regional ferry: the vomit comet!

Don’t forget the tourists. In a survey conducted in 2014 among the UK’s leading tour operators; 75 percent of respondents felt that many of their clients (10 percent or more) would be interested in using a ferry service in the Eastern Caribbean. In 2013, the Eastern Caribbean received 1.3 million tourists; 10 percent of that is 130,000 potential ferry customers. That’s a pretty good base to start with.

Potential ferry routes: Based on established linkages among the sub-regions of the Eastern Caribbean, possible ferry routes include:

  • Northern Caribbean: Historically there are close links among the islands of the Northern Caribbean; where people move freely, seemingly immune from visa and other restrictions. The sub-region is served by ferries from Antigua to Barbuda, and from St. Kitts to Nevis; but there is no regular regional service.
  • Barbados-Saint Lucia: Both islands are major regional tourist destinations; however they offer vastly different products. Tour operators report that although their clients are interested in multi-destination holidays; they don’t like to fly – particularly on LIAT. A fast, safe ferry between both islands, where the journey becomes a scenic attraction in itself, would be popular among tourists. And, importantly, Saint. Lucia is the easiest point from which to sail to Barbados, where the Atlantic waters can sometimes be “a bit frisky”.
  • The Grenadines: The quintessential island-hopping experience; including the world famous Tobago Cays. There is a great deal of inter-island movement among the Southern Grenadines, most of which occurs in small informal boats and goes completely unrecorded. There is no scheduled ferry service between Carriacou (Grenada) and Union Island (Saint Vincent); you have to charter a private boat to cross this short stretch of water, from whence you can pick up a ferry to the rest of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
  • Trinidad-Grenada: “Scratch a Trini; you find a Grenadian.” There are strong linkages between Trinidad and Grenada. Successive administrations from both countries have tried to launch ferry projects – all without success. Between LIAT and CAL there are about 5 direct flights per day; plus connections via Saint Vincent and Barbados. For low-cost travel, many people sail on the cargo vessels plying the Grenada-Trinidad trade; which are limited to 12 passengers per trip, and are far from comfortable. There is no doubt that a ferry service, charging fares significantly lower than air fares, could double the size of the travelling public between Trinidad and Grenada – or more.

If a ferry service is so badly needed; why hasn’t it happened up to now? Caribbean Rose, Bedy Lines Limited, Fast Caribbean Ltd: just three of the failed project initiatives within living memory – there are many, many more. There are many reasons why these projects failed to launch, including:

  • Most of them originated from unsolicited proposals submitted to one government; there has been no coordinated regional ferry project involving all the regional governments.
  • The economics of Caribbean fast ferry projects are often marginal, with untried routes, high operating costs and limited ability to pay on the part of the travelling public.
  • None of the participating governments have thus far been willing to commit subsidy funds to a regional ferry project.
  • Some of the vessels proposed by investors were not suitable for the intended purpose.

Is a regional ferry viable? I do not know; but I suspect that it could be. With the right structure and support; and given enough time for the concept of inter-island travel by ferry to catch on (again); I believe that a regional ferry service could become a self-sustaining commercial enterprise. It would probably require a subsidy, at least (hopefully only!) in the early years.

The key is low fares. People will not go through the extra travel time, unless there are substantial dollar savings to be made. Although a ferry would be expected to take away some demand from air travel; the real benefit of a ferry would be to expand the market, by making regional more affordable than at present.

You need lots of bodies. Let’s look at for example the Trinidad to Grenada route. Based on my own back of envelope calculations; a ferry would require about 120 passengers to break even on a Trinidad to Grenada voyage. This is based on current regional prices for diesel fuel.

Let’s drive. How difficult can it be, for the governments in the region to get together and do away with the cumbersome rules currently regulating the temporary movement of motor vehicles across Caribbean borders? There are plenty of international precedents to learn from. Apparently, the simple is impossible. But allowing the inter-island movement of vehicles would be a game-changer for intra-Caribbean travel; just look at Europe.

Public or private? After our grim experiences of government-run airlines throughout the Caribbean, the last thing we need is a “LIAT-on-sea”. Although governments of the region would play a critical role in launching and regulating the regional ferry; governments should leave the business of business where it belongs: in the private sector.

Donors support is essential. Undoubtedly, some international organization will have to take a leading role, in order to shepherd this regional project from concept to reality. The World Bank is ideally placed to lead the effort, but let us not forget our home-grown development institutions: CARICOM, CDB and the OECS.

The best way to get the best deal is to bid it out. Project preparation is an extremely expensive business; and someone has to make that “leap of faith” to take the project forward. In other words: spend money – a lot of it. Once we have this project champion/benefactor; we can then get on with the hard work of structuring and bidding out a regional ferry operation.

Just do it. This is a project that’s been dying to happen, for a long time. With the right support from regional governments and development institutions, this long-awaited, much-needed project can finally become a reality.

This article grew out of a consulting assignment Samuel undertook for the World Bank in preparing a paper entitled: “Improving Eastern Caribbean States’ Regional Competitiveness Through Tourism.”

S. Brian Samuel can be reached at stevenbriansamuel@gmail.com.

Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.

Sunday Musings – Where We Going?

Two items of news reported in traditional media in the last 48 hours attracted the attention of the blogmaster. The first report in the Nation newspaper with the title – ‘Strong Concerns’ about BL&P call – highlighted a concern by lawyer Tricia Watson about the BL&P asking for a rate increase and accused them of hiding information from the public according to the news report.

The blogmaster has no issue with Watson and her recent prosecution of the BL&P on the airwaves about the request for a rate increase. In fact we need more public spirited citizens getting involved to advocate on the many issues that affect us. It is after all a key element to ensuring a healthy democracy.

However, of interest after listening to Tricia Watson on VOB’s Brasstacks and reading the newspaper report, a question came to mind. Why did Watson think it necessary to come to the public to air concerns? The law governing a rate review hearing must be a public affair and all sides will have an opportunity to present positions under the oversight of the Fair Trading Commission (FTC), the regulator. Notwithstanding there is always the opportunity to educate a public about a highly technical matter – the blogmaster’s concern stands.

An explanation of the role of the FTC posted to the website mandates the Financial Services Commission Act (2010) assures John public the FTC has a duty to fairly weigh positions presented by the company (BL&P) and intervenors (Tricia Watson is an intervenor) with the support of subject matter of experts. The verbal darts being exchanged in public raises the unsubstantiated view held by the blogmaster that there is an element of distrust in the system by those representing the people.

The other news item of interest addressed declining car sales on the island. The official in the Barbados Today article titled – Car sales continue to be a struggle says senior executive – lamented car sales were beginning to pick up until the Russia/Ukraine conflict intervened to forestall.

Barbados is a country struggling with a bad economy that has not recovered from the 2008 global financial crisis. In recent years it has been hammered by Hurricane Elsa, volcanic ash from Mount Soufriere, Covid 19 to name the ‘biggies’. Why in heavens name is the leadership of the country doing nothing to restructure and make the transportation system more efficient? Is the blogmaster wrong in thinking what exists is unsustainable?

The importation of food and fuel are responsible for soaking up significant amount of scarce foreign exchange. Citizens continue to be afflicted with excuses from government regarding the pace at which electric vehicles are being introduced to the market. Daily NEW fossil burning vehicles bearing ML plates (government owned vehicles) are seen bouncing around the island. Why are we letting another crisis to go to waste? 

Where there is No Vision, There is no Hope

George Washington Carver

In summary, we need to ensure agencies responsible for representing citizens do so in a matter that nurtures trust between all actors in civil society. The blogmaster is reminded of the sudden resignation without explanation to the people of former minister Ronald Toppin. With well over 130,000 vehicles on the roads, where they hell are we going?

Police Surrender to Wheelie Motorcyclists

The following video may suggest many things to different people. What is suggests to the blogmaster is a lawlessness and indiscipline that is getting close to mainstream behaviour. A situation where authorities seem helpless in the eyes of the public to curb the rot. A situation where a sub element in society has taken civil society hostage. In fact this unattended lawlessness on our roads is channelling what now obtains in the PSV sector. First we ignored it, then we paid lip service to it and now the behaviour has ‘metastasize’ to all segments of society. Have we observed how ordinary motorist are ‘bursing’ through amber and red traffic lights? Parking on side walks and other unauthorized areas? Using cellphones without handsfree etc?

Source: Nation

BU family member John A posted the following eyewitness account of the unbelievable lawlessness we are witnessing on our roads on a daily basis. This coupled with the fact police and government appear feckless.


David I am so happy you showed that video as I saw the idiots myself on Sunday, so let me share what happened.

I was in a line of traffic moving slowly coming into Warrens from the south coast on the highway around 5pm.

When I finally got to Warrens round about it was these idiots who were the problem. They were riding between the Warrens roundabout and the Shopsmart roundabout taking up both lanes of traffic. Bikes on only back wheels, quads sliding from side to side and no cars could pass them. When they got to the Cost-U-Less roundabout they then went back to Warrens. I saw at least 30 of them in Warrens, but also passed another 20 or so on the side of the road by Kooyman Hardware store.

My point is what de ass are the police doing about this? Why must joggers and others using the road be abused by a handful of idiots every Sunday?

I also noticed in the video when they saw the police vehicles they scattered like flies. No doubt none have insurance and few may even have a bike license. This problem has been going on for months on a Sunday, so why has it not been dealt with? They are certain parts of the ABC highway that have rock faces on both sides, hence no escape. Why hasn’t a trap been set for them in such areas?

It is a disgrace that the authorities are so inept when it comes to this issue. It is only a matter of time before one of these idiots kills either a jogger or someone on the road side.

Dam well get up and deal with it!

This island seems to have lost all control over enforcement of law and the message these idiots are sending to others is WE CAN DO WHAT WE WANT AND NO ONE CAN TOUCH US.

BU Commenter John A

F for V I S I O N

There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole.

Then mend it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
Then mend it, dear Henry, dear Henry, mend it.
..”

Nursery Rhyme

During the Estimates Debate last week the decision by the government to purchase electric buses was identified as one of the reasons the Transport Board achieved significant cost savings. The blogmaster is unsure if the actual amount of savings was mentioned. He also cited the Transport Augmentation Program (TAP) as a good example of a public-private partnership. The fact members of TAP have grumbled publicly about delayed payments for services rendered is understandable given challenges created by the pandemic.

The electric buses are observed daily on the streets of Barbados and although the pandemic has significantly reduced loads they appear to be doing a job. The blogmaster will wait until the work rate of the buses increases before giving the thumbs up.

For many years commentators have railed about a dysfunctional public transportation system. It is one reason average individuals now prioritize purchasing a private vehicle above house and land. On a 166 square mile island reported to have greater than 130, 000 registered vehicles, it leaves one to muse about the sanity of an educated people. It does not require high IQ to deduce there will be consequences if the a radical transportation policy is not implemented quickly.

Minister Gooding-Edghill must share government’s plan for improving public transportation that will see a significant reduction of vehicles on the roads of Barbados. Enough of purchasing Chinese electric buses already. By the way, in the 80s we held up Butcher’s ACME as a model company which converted a chassis into a reliable omnibus. It is regrettable we have not applied the brain power to that sevtor to be able to economically produce electric buses. An efficient public transportation system is more than procurement of Chinese buses. Can Barbadians tap an app on a mobile device to check bus scheduling in “real time” to plan travel for work, school or leisure?

There must be a holistic planning of land use policy of which an efficient public transportation system is integral – to significantly reduce the number of vehicles and congestion on the road, reduce carbon emissions etc. The general public must demand policy that is forward thinking and futuristic design and fit for purpose.

The chaos witnessed daily on our roads is a key performance indicator to support an F grade on the policymaker’s scorecard. The long wait times and inefficient processes Barbadians have to endure at the Licensing Authority offices is a key performance indicator to support an F grade on the policymaker’s scorecard. The upward trendline in the number of vehicles on the road is a key performance indicator to support an F grade on policymaker’s scorecard…

The blogmaster listened to the transportation ministers sharing the plan for the coming financial year BUT missing was how it linked to a vision for Barbados 10 years into the future. The Cabinet meets and one must assume a cabinet paper is the output of a rigorous inter ministry process that translates to national policy. Last week seemed very reactive and disjointed to a simple-minded blogmaster.

A PAC Affair @Transport Board

For anyone searching for comic relief during the stressful times we have to endure these days, especially with COVID 19 about, tune in to Public Account Committee (PAC) Hearings. Recordings are available online on Facebook, YouTube, Barbados Parliament websites- you have no excuse to not avail yourself of this stress buster.

The PAC under the chairmanship of Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley is currently probing what appears to onlookers to be GROSS mismanagement and malfeasance at the Transport Board covered in the Auditor General Special Audit Report for 2017-2018 period.

Public Accounts Committee Session – 7 September 2020

A couple questions after watching some of the hearing,

  1. Under what circumstances should former chairman of the Transport Board (TB) Anthony Wiltshire have been allowed to use his personal credit card to purchase bus parts? If the line of credit of the Board was cancelled, the ministry of finance should have intervened to implement a better arrangement.
  2. It is obvious the Board under Wiltshire reneged on its responsibility to hold the Board of Management accountable for several foul ups, bleeps and blunders revealed during the PAC sessions so far.
  3. The pace at which the PAC is scheduling meetings, it is unlikely a final report will be available in the near future. It leaves a suspicious mind to believe completion of PAC reports are timed to gain political advantage. In this case a general election has appeared in the rear view mirror. Former General Manager (GM) Sandra Forde indicated she was prepared to answer all questions at the last sitting, her offer was declined because the chairman was committed to a hard stop at 5.15PM.
  4. The CEO of the TB Fabian Wharton seems to be an improved version of former GM Sandra Forde but the blogmaster is always worried when a CEO cannot speak fluently about P&L matters.

All Barbadians should be concerned about the lack of professionalism practised at the TB exposed in the ongoing PAC meetings and Auditor General reprot. The TB is a statutory board responsible for soaking up millions in subsidies under BLP and DLP governments, borrowed NIS funds and padded the workforce with yardfowls at taxpayers expense. The blogmaster is hopeful financial controller Felicia Sue will not be the fall girl for what has transpired.

The comedy fest will continue in about two weeks.

Adrian Loveridge Column – Covid 19 and LIAT

It would appear that our citizens and residents will first have the option of travelling within the Caribbean, as and when Coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

As we are now in the traditional prolonged softer summer season, it also appears to be more logical that our tourism planners and policymakers will focus, at least part of their efforts on promoting this opportunity.

As airlift possibilities within the region are extremely limited and LIAT has so far indicated they will not resume commercial passenger services until at least 30th June 2020, here again comes the crunch.

As we have witnessed for decades, LIAT has drifted through various degrees of cash flow crisis, management turmoil and insolvency issues, seemingly unable to survive without massive taxpayer support. At the same time, most Governments within the region have increasingly levied what many consider deterrent taxes and surcharges on their airline ticket prices, making it cheaper, in many cases, to fly to Canada or the United States.

So if we, as a country, or other states within the region are remotely hoping that Intra-Caribbean travel will at least lead the charge in returning to some sort of normality in arrivals numbers, then the status quo will have to change. Our Government will have to weigh-up the fact that if people cannot be enticed to our shores, that they will not collect VAT and other taxes on hotel or other accommodation, rental cars, restaurant dining, shopping, attractions and activities etc, for those visits.

The predicament for the administration will be if they really wish our crushed tourism industry to recover in the least possible time, will they forgo at least some of the multiple taxes currently applied?

Of course, it’s not just about returning tourism to viability, but restoring employment to an acceptable level in the foreseeable future, with the additional taxes and national insurance contributions that brings.

According to recent reports the World Bank has approved loans of US$159 million for a series of Caribbean Regional Air Transport connectivity projects.  This included concessionary financing of $13 million for Dominica, US$17 million for Grenada and US$45 million for St. Lucia with a maturity of 40 years including a grace period of 10 years ‘to improve regional capacity’ and ‘facilitate connectivity and support countries during the COVID-19 recovery phase’.

Will these incredibly generous borrowing terms, at least partially relieve financial pressures on these Governments and enable them to reduce airport and departure taxes?

Airline pundits have also been calling for radical reforms of LIAT over the last decade or more and for a company that has been so reliant on taxpayer’s monies for almost an eternity it seems almost incredulous that their accounts have not been made public for 40 years.

Perhaps this is the opportunity to finally restructure the company, without regional political interference preventing the installation of management that could ensure its long term viability and survival. Unless this happens, just the concept of developing the true potential of intra-Caribbean travel and restoring past arrival numbers will remain a distant pipe dream.

PSV Sector COVID 19 Ready

The PSV sector continues to be of interest in the COVID 19 period.

For four decades due to neglect by the authorities the sector has been allowed to fuel a negative sub culture mainly linked to greed and corruption. The reasons have been detailed in blogs and other commentary over the years, there is no need to repeat the arguments here.

The pandemic is a threat to public health and to prevent the spread of COVID 19 all individuals and entities MUST play a part by adhering to protocols proclaimed by public health authority.

In the opinion of the blogmaster the PSV sector has been given an opportunity to rebrand by ensuring members follow health protocols – wearing masks, overseeing physical distancing on vehicles, regular cleaning of vehicles etc. The blogmaster appointed himself at a strategic place to observe the sector this week and unsurprisingly was not disappointed at the flagrant regard for COVID health protocols. It was business as usual for the majority of vehicles in the period under observation.

Our public health officials have worked hard to contain the spread of the virus. However, there has been a large slice of luck to factor as well given how the PSV sector has been allowed to operate. Picture a scenario where a person infected travelled in a crowded Zr NOT exercising COVID precautions. A mass transit system is the perfect vehicle to ensure a rapid spread of COVID 19 in a tiny or large country. Is there a learning for Barbados from the decision by New York Governor to shut down the legendary mass transit system to be sanitized?

This is a plea to the Ministry of Transport; Transport Authority and the several PSV associations responsible for managing transportation in Barbados to rollout a plan- that should have been implemented yesterday- to arrest the indiscipline in the sector. This is a tired call given the current state of the sector but we must try and try and try in order to succeed. Successive governments have failed us and in the current setup we have not one but two ministers responsible for the sector and a Chairman of the Transport Authority who is related to the prime minister and must have her ear.

Protect people from themselves.

Do something for heaven-sakes.

 

 

Proposal: Pan-regional Business System, Facilitated by Pan-regional Airline

jimlynch

Submitted by James C. “Jim” Lynch, Captain, retired, * Originally from Barbados, West Indies

PM Antigua
PM Bahamas
PM Barbados
PM Belize
PM Dominica
PM Grenada
PM St. Lucia
PM St. Kitts
PM St. Vincent&Grenadines
ANU Minister Yearwood
CARICOM Deputy Sec-Gen
CARICOM Sec-Gen
CARICOM Ambassador Comissong
ECCAA Chairman

To the Prime Ministers and other leaders of CARICOM…

Honourable Ladies and Gentlemen…

Proposal: Pan-regional business system, facilitated by pan-regional airline

As COVID-19 decimates the world’s corporations, we see businesses large and small as well as airlines collapsing and closing for a variety of reasons. Some airlines will fail because of poor loads, some from executive/management greed, some from sheer incompetence.

LIAT and Caribbean Airlines will not be immune to this virus, mainly because its top management are not aviation or airline people, they have never seen any other “models” of airlines than what they inherited or have always worked in. They are incompetent in aviation at the best of times, and this is far from the best of times.

For six years I have been interested in starting a private, truly regional airline with a network covering all of CARICOM and the British  OTs, NOT including the US Territories or any US destinations. “De man crazy”, you say? Well, my best aviation industry opinion is that a start-up going head-to-head with US carriers is business suicide. Forget it, American carriers can do that more economically for our people.

The network, for Stage 1, is intended to be Surinam to Mexico City to Bermuda and back to Surinam, and all viable CARICOM destinations in between, with the stated exceptions above. It would be based in the  OECS, under the auspices and authority of the EC-CAA.

There exists a Stage 2, for after the IPO, and a Stage 3 for about 9 years after start-up. But I’d like to concentrate of doing the first things first. There is long-distance planning going on here, this is not a flash in the pan I threw down into a Word document.

The COVID-19 argument against its existence is not valid, in that funding will take some months to achieve, and the EC-CAA seldom issues an AOC air Operating certificate within a year. Even if someone handed me the entire amount right now, April 2021 over the horizon would be a reasonable starting date for operations.

I have been reluctant to share this concept with any government before because the last time I took a concept to a government Minister I and my partner were shut out and the government stole the idea – and then had the gall to suggest they did not do so.

This also CANNOT be a government-run entity, or it WILL end up with utterly incompetent politically appointed management like LIAT, Caribbean Airlines, BahamasAir and others and keep sucking money out of taxpayers pockets.

============================================

Extracts from the 3-page Executive Summary to the 100+ page Business Plan:

This proposal, based on 4 years of Sabre and GDS data (not on
speculation), is for a region-wide business system which contains and is
facilitated by a politically protected (but not politically directed),
scheduled, medium-haul truly regional PRIVATE airline whose core network
will be the Caribbean Basin – initially serving only the economic
grouping of sovereign developing countries of CARICOM (excluding the USA
and Territories), over a network the size of Canada, with little or no
competition.

This airline network will be a virtual monopoly, since non-regional
airlines are banned from operating over them between these countries
(see CARICOM Multilateral Air Services Agreement), and the current
“regional” airlines are all government owned and 100% broke. The
proposed business section will include joint ventures with entrepreneurs
in businesses where their products and services are needed locally to
reduce or eliminate imports.

A 100% LOAN is sought of US$215 million over 14 years, at 8% interest,
with no payments or fees up front.  Of that $215 million, up to 40%
(US$86 million) is available for direct investment, but the rest – 60%
(US$129 million) – MUST be in loan form. By the end of the first year
(Year 0) when service starts there will be more than $160 million
available in assets, in aircraft and real estate.

The airline portion of this project is based on actual Sabre and other
GDS database numbers for four recent years (2014-17), not on
speculation. The financial forecast – prepared by an experienced UK
airline consultant – suggests that even using deliberately conservative
(even pessimistic) assumptions we may still expect to break even during
the second year of flight operations (year 3).

SOME OF THE BENEFITS TO CARICOM

From the beginning this project was intended to be synergistic and
cooperative to the CARICOM Common Market.

TOURISM IN CARICOM:
The on-line booking software to operate the airline will be designed to
include assistance to other small airlines, small hotels, ground tour
operators and a range of other regional tourism-oriented activities
while allowing passengers to modify their itineraries on the fly (within
limits, of course), perhaps to go as far as allowing customers to set
automated local wake-up telephone calls for themselves from within their
web accounts.

BUSINESS IN CARICOM:
This regional project was also intended to facilitate regional
businesses – to start with minority positions in joint ventures with our
own airline suppliers (such as catering), to initiating pulp and fibre
manufacturing providing containers for both on-board service and
replacing all styrofoam and plastics normally used in food service, and
also to start providing a regional referral / connection business
database service between supply and demand (including labour).

RISK ASSESSMENT

Because of budgeted contingencies, the EXISTING political protections
and almost complete lack of regional competition, I suggest you should
regard this Project as a VERY LOW RISK proposition, more of a
non-governmental development.

All of the larger regional carriers are government-owned, politically
run – and always on the verge of bankruptcy (supported by hundreds of
millions of taxpayer dollars over the years). It is REASONABLE to assume
that because they can barely afford to operate their current routes they
would not be able to start innovating new routes to compete with this
project.

THIS CARRIER DOES NOT INTEND TO COMPETE WITH ANY OTHER REGIONAL CARRIER

MANAGEMENT AND STRATEGY

On stand-by is a start-up team of highly qualified, respected and
experienced hands-on aviation professionals – the majority are regional
nationals, but there are some globally experienced professional
ex-patriates.

In addition, a UK company is interested in a joint venture to perform
the airline’s maintenance, and they have indicated an interest in future
expansion of that facility to a much larger heavy-maintenance facility.

The compulsory objective is not to just “try” to do this, but to ensure
all of the right conditions and funding fully pre-exist before we start
which will guarantee success. Except for the funding, all of the right
conditions exist NOW – and we are all determined to either make this a
success, or not do it at all.

A loan, as opposed to investment, is sought for this Project to
primarily to keep this in CARIBBEAN hands, to finally do this the right
way for our region, and to satisfy our regional needs and small
investors – not purely the greed of foreigners.

The Founder offers a career, qualifications and experience in several
modes of air and ground transportation plus management training,
experience, contacts, reputation, two CARICOM citizenships (and life
experience).

============================================

I ask each of you for your assistance in funding the funding for this project, which would seek to kick-start entrepreneurs and small business in every destination in CARICOM.

It would fully enable CSME, and our efforts to coordinate all regional carriers – in every region – would make Caribbean connectivity a reality for the first time ever.

It would make such things as pulp plants and vertical farming (which avoids praedial larceny and can control atmosphere to grow any kind of plants) and many other advantages to feed and clothe ourselves.

We should LEARN something from this pandemic, understand that we cannot live on tourism alone, that in a pinch we MUST be able to feed ourselves, that entrepreneurs can no longer be left to the wiles and denials of commercial banks – AND “Development” Banks.

We can replace external products with products we make ourselves – but that does not come with excess bureaucracy and scant funding. I am willing to do what you will not or cannot do, that is perform joint ventures with entrepreneurs and give them real-world business advice, guide them to success, and open their market from a local 70,000 to CARICOM’s 14 million, facilitated by the airline.

I know there are plans for a CARICOM fund from the regional banks, and I would like to be the first in line for that funding. But I cannot wait forever on bureaucracy and red tape, fumbling and internal politics. As you can see I am offering 40% of the ask in equity to an investors, and I am about to connect with one in China.

As a Caribbean Man I would like to keep ownership in the Caribbean and avoid flight of foreign currency (ROI) before and at the IPO, but unless the regional leaders and CARICOM ease the purse strings that is the way it will have to go.

None of you ever respond to my emails. I do hope this appeal will receive a different reception.

And that you will not just steal my idea and screw it up like LIAT and Caribbean Airlines.

Thank you for your valuable time and consideration.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/captain-james-jim-lynch-90892328/

Barbados Air Traffic Control – 2 years
Charter pilot – 3 years – TropicAir, Carib Aviation
Airline pilot – 17 years – Air BVI, LIAT (1974) Ltd.
Management training and experience
Webmaster, Programmer & Systems Analyst
Aviation Consultant & Caribbean Specialist

To Prime Ministers and other Leaders of CARICOM…

Submitted by James C. “Jim” Lynch, Captain, retired

Good day, Ladies and Gentlemen…

I already know that the worst among you will hit the delete key before
you get halfway through this email. But if you do so, feel free to
acknowledge to yourself that you truthfully don’t really give a pinhead
of a damn about your own people, locally or regionally.

In Jamaica, aviation is growing, with one new airline in process and
another (still confidential) about to launch.
https://www.craneforum.org/viewtopic.php?t=29366

But in the rest of the English-speaking Caribbean, including the Bahamas
but especially in the eastern Caribbean, aviation has been stifled,
restricted, actually attacked by the Civil Aviation Authorities and
Departments and bound in red tape to the point where it is almost
non-existent – all the while allowing foreign carriers and even private
pilots with illegal small aircraft to rape the local and regional
carriers into bankruptcy.

And the government-owned airlines continue to operate merrily along on
political expediency, Board bullshit, and hundreds of millions of
hard-earned taxpayer dollars.

— St. Lucia used to have three small airlines. Now it has zero.
— Grenada used to have two airlines. Now it has zero – SVG Air serves
Grenada.
— St. Kitts and Nevis used to have two airlines. Not they have zero.
— Dominica has had one or two airlines on and off. Now it has zero.
— Barbados used to have FOUR airlines. Now it has one.
— Barbados used to have a thriving Flying Club. It still exists, but
most of the time its facilities are a deserted wasteland.

After spending as much as S$30,000 of their own family’s money, newly
trained pilots come back home to face a year or more of red tape,
examinations, significantly more expenses, sheer official nonsense, and
no small amount of bureaucratic contempt – this discouragement in a time
when there is a global pilot shortage.

Is LIAT going to end up advertising for European, Canadian or American
pilots while regional pilots stay home and find work selling TShirts on
a beach?

The same Authorities have turned a blind eye to non-CARICOM airlines and
even private (non-commercial, uninsured) pilots flying – in AND out –
stealing the traffic small regional carriers (who don’t suck up taxpayer
dollars) used to rely on.

FIRST for instance, business jets based in the USA are called to bring
passengers to the region, and ALSO to pick passengers up here and take
them back. When business jets based in OUR countries are called for a
charter, it takes more than 8 hours to get permission from the USA to
operate the charter – and that is whether the flight is going there or
picking people up to bring back.

By the time the regional company gets that permission, many times the
passengers have called a charter company in the USA, the bizjet has
arrived AND departed, they are already on their way, and the local
charter company is left holding useless permits.

SECOND for instance, there is someone flying a slow single engine piston
aircraft registered in the USA – apparently based in Martinique –
operating commercial charter flights throughout the islands, including
as long as Barbados to Aruba. By law, single engine flight over water
for commercial purposes is ILLEGAL, yet not a soul in authority ever
does anything about it, EVEN THOUGH THEY HAVE BEEN NOTIFIED FOR AS LONG
AS 15 YEARS.

I was told action has been taken on this particular offender, but there
are others – the fact is THERE IS NO OVERSIGHT ON THE GROUND.

And the last I heard, all of the regional aviation authorities
REQUIRED US-registered aircraft based in our islands to register
locally. But is it because it has a US registration that the pilot is
somehow untouchable? I guess he might be “touchable” if the legally
required Authority personnel were actually doing their jobs and policing
all of the airports properly. The Americans sure do.

Aviation in Barbados, particularly, is a GLOBAL JOKE. The CAD has been
stripped down to almost NO personnel, and even those have been moved a
mile AWAY from the airport ramp – where they should be on the spot where
they can see what is going on. In Barbados there are not enough
personnel/Inspectors to oversee a small KingAir, yet they accepted a
Boeing 747-400 on the registry. GLOBAL JOKE.

So tell me, where is the oversight on that huge aircraft? Little wonder
the FAA laugh at Barbados when the country says they want Category One
status. Last time they performed an evaluation they said don’t call us
for another ten years – these guys do this for a living, and they know
what they bare talking about. GLOBAL JOKE.

Barbados is not serious, not the Prime Minister, not the Minister
responsible for aviation. CANNOT BE SERIOUS. As one of my former
colleagues would say, “Not ready”. Barbados is not even “ready” for what
they have now, far less competent to provide oversight on a 747. GLOBAL
JOKE.

If one of our regionally based bizjets operates to the USA – including
to the USVI or Puerto Rico – without permission, they would be met by
Customs, Immigration and the Police. There is every chance that the
pilot would be fined, and even possible the aircraft could be
confiscated or impounded.

If a US-based bizjet operates to any of our islands without permission,
they clear Customs and Immigration, pay the landing fees, file a flight
plan, and fly back out. And this is whether they bring passengers in or
take passengers out.

I know you Prime Ministers don’t give a damn about things you don’t
really know about. For years neither you nor your Offices, or your
Ministers – ALL servants of the people – even acknowledge or respond to
emails from your own citizens. Is it not time that you stop destroying
an industry that makes a major contribution to the region? This is the
same industry you made into a “cash cow” and now refuse to roll back?

If all this were not enough, I have been told that the last meeting of
CaribAVia (an affiliate of the US-based National Business Aircraft
Association) in Sint Maarten was flooded with US airline representatives
lobbying for MUCH greater access for US carriers to the eastern
Caribbean islands, including what we call “cabotage”, or inter-island
flights they do not currently have rights for. If this is agreed to by
CARICOM, MASA would have been a hypocritical piece of stink political
crap and we, the people, will know that politicians received millions of
dollars in bribes, ALL of our carriers will disappear, and the
literally billions of US dollars that taxpayers put into LIAT over the
decades has slipped down the drain.

In such circumstances we WILL lose LIAT, Caribbean Airlines, Cayman
Airlines, BahamasAir and all others, government and privately owned.
They will be replaced with US airlines whose executives care nothing for
OUR needs, but in having the monopoly they will soak our citizens like
our politicians’ current cash-cow behaviour could never have imagined or
realised. They will serve the routes that make money, and ignore the
rest of us.

On the subject of new airlines, three years ago (based on four years of
actual data) I created a Business Plan for an intra-Caribbean
pan-regional airline… Surinam to Puerto Vallarta to Bermuda to
Surinam, with no US destinations… using single-aisle Airbus A320
family jets, with over 100 pages of details. Plus 350+ pages of private
ancillary ideas and notes.

I decided to keep the funding in Caribbean hands, so I sought a loan
from every agency I could think of, as well as the Chinese and some
Europeans. Nothing. Nobody was interested, not even Caribbean
“Development Banks”. I guess I did not offer any “grease”, so they
discarded my communications. But most of those people are political
appointees, and it is clearly apparent they are in those positions to
take such advantages.

In my travels, it appears the same “Development Banks” you politicians
set up to help entrepreneurs NOW make it harder for someone to get a
loan to start a business than the commercial banks. And I have
definitely tried, believe me. These “Development Banks” now appear to be
just dumping grounds for your political friends who have no competence
in the matter but draw huge salaries, just like on the LIAT Board.

If it walks like a duck…

And you have set up certain Banks to deal ONLY with governments – so
what Development does the CDB help with? Certainly not entrepreneurs.
They actually take orders from – and lose BIG money – only to our broke
governments whose politicians cannot pay their loans back.

I heard that CARICOM was setting up yet another fund with unused
regional bank money “to help entrepreneurs”. I wrote to Mr. Comissiong
in Barbados, and he responded with enthusiasm. I also wrote to a Ms.
Yearwood at the CARICOM Secretariat and she also responded with
enthusiasm.

But unfortunately neither one now seems willing or able to respond to
further emails. I wonder what new scam is brewing there and who will be
the new millionaires in the region. Yes, I said it. What is happening
with politicians these days is nothing short of despicable.

Transparent and accountable – don’t make me laugh out loud and fall off
my chair. And I don’t give a rocket-powered damn if you are “not
impressed”.

I now live in Canada – out of reach of anybody’s petty malicious local
retribution – yet I do have a strong desire to make a major contribution
to CARICOM, CSME, intra-regional travel and making a difference in all
of the communities the airline would serve, but since you ALL seem
not to be the slightest bit interested in improving CARICOM, maybe I
should stay the hell away from the entire CARICOM region for the rest of
my life and vacation in California or Hawaii instead. They certainly
would be cheaper to visit – especially not paying your damned greedy
cash-cow taxes and fees which double the air fare or more.

Yes, I have been somewhat insulting here. But just how long ALL of
you Prime Ministers and Ministers think you can keep up this rudeness
and neglect OF YOUR OWN CITIZENS until so many people – other than I –
get totally frustrated with the waste of people, time and money and
throw CARICOM away?

SO FIX DE DAMN TING, NAH?

Thank you so much for your extremely valuable time. And obviously I
don’t expect an acknowledgement or response to this email from ANY of
you.

Best wishes to all of you anyway,

James C. “Jim” Lynch
Captain, retired
* Originally from Barbados, West Indies

https://www.linkedin.com/in/captain-james-jim-lynch-90892328/

Sutton West, Ontario
Near Toronto (Eastern Time, same as New York)
416-602-7389 : Mobile
jim.lynch : Skype (email first to coordinate time, please)

Barbados Air Traffic Control – 2 years
Charter pilot – 3 years – TropicAir, Carib Aviation
Airline pilot – 18 years – Air BVI, LIAT (1974) Ltd.
Management training and experience
Webmaster, Programmer & Systems Analyst
Aviation Consultant & Caribbean Specialist

SVG Air Head Calls Public to Challenge Govt on Wet Runway Closures
https://www.craneforum.org/viewtopic.php?t=29362

ECCAA Under Fire From Saint Lucia Minister
https://www.craneforum.org/viewtopic.php?t=29370

Saint Lucia to Sever Ties with ECCAA?
https://www.craneforum.org/viewtopic.php?t=29371

IATA Encourages Change in Caribbean Aviation
https://www.craneforum.org/viewtopic.php?t=29376

Transport Authority Attempts to Break the Law

In the last 24 hours the public of Barbados was apprised of the decision that several suspension letters issued to Public Service Vehicles (PSVs) by the Transport Authority had to be embarrassingly withdrawn. Although Chairman of the Transport Authority Ian Estwick is reported to be tight-lipped why the claw back was made, Chairman of the Association of Public Transport Operators (APTO) Kenneth Best – a former member of parliament – had no problem pointing to a violation of process by the Transport Authority supported in the Road Traffic and Transport Authority Act.

In a simple summarization of the matter –  we have a private transportation system the authority has been unable to efficiently regulate for more than 40 years. The recent attempt to impose itself on the sector the Transport Authority mashed the crease by also breaking the law and had to squash the suspension letters issued. How did the Transport Authority led by a seasoned retired banker with access to the best legal opinion commit such an egregious error?

You cannot make this stuff up.

For years a copious amount of commentary has been dumped in the Barbados space about the sub culture that has resulted from an inefficiently regulated PSV sector.   This blogmaster will not add EXCEPT to reassert the problem of the sector has its root in who are the beneficial owners of PSV permits. Does it makes sense asking former Ministers of Transport to elucidate on this matter? To be clear let us add the most recent incumbents – Johnny Tudor, George Payne, Gline Clarke , Michael Lashley et al.

It is widely known by the authorities that the practice of illegally leasing permits to others is an entrenched behaviour. With the stroke of a pen this could be dealt with by the remaining three insurance companies issuing insurance cover to PSVs by adding a clause to the policy agreement as follows:

All claims on the subject policy will be made null and void by the underwriter if evidence is found the vehicle is not operated or managed by the policyholder.

The time has come for good men and women to win back this island from the vice grip of a few greedy persons. We can be bertlike prioritizing the fixing of economic indicators, however, until we also improve the efficiency of transportation, water distribution, waste disposal, maintenance of roads, manning ports of entry to list a few, we are spinning top in mud.

Barbadians must become more active by intelligently speaking to issues every opportunity available.

Call for Caribbean Governments to Tax Cruise Sector MORE AND Tax Air Passengers LESS

MacLellan

Robert MacLellan, Managing Director, MacLellan & Associates

Can tourism dependent Caribbean governments learn something from oil producing countries? When relatively small and poor oil producing governments sought to get a fair price for oil – their main source of national revenue – they banded together to negotiate more effectively with the multi-national oil companies and the larger developed nations, which were the major consumers of their oil. In 1960 five of these countries came together to found OPEC – the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries – and were later joined by nine additional member states. As a result of their joint stronger bargaining power, oil prices have risen relatively steadily from US$1.63 per barrel in 1960 to an average of around US$77 during the last ten years.

The weak negotiating position of individual Caribbean governments versus the massive cruise line corporations, relative to port taxes, poses similarities to OPEC’s situation sixty years ago and the same potential “rebalancing” strategy should now be pursued in the Caribbean. If governments across the whole region, including Central America, come together and form OTEC – the Organization of Tourism Economy Countries – they can negotiate as a cartel from a position of greater strength with the cruise lines. Currently, when individual countries try to increase port taxes, they are threatened with being dropped from cruise itineraries and can be picked off one by one by the powerful cruise lines.

From a better bargaining position, state or national governments with single destination cruise itineraries – Alaska, Bermuda and Hawaii – have already negotiated higher cruise port revenues than those in the average Caribbean country. Cruise ships stay two nights in Bermuda and pay at least US$50 per passenger. For mainland United States and Canada cruise itineraries, an average of 33% of the cruise ticket price goes to port taxes, compared to an average 14% for a Caribbean itinerary. By negotiating together, governments in the Greater Caribbean region can achieve similar results to these destinations with higher port taxes.

A recent statement from the Government of Antigua & Barbuda summarized the history and current situation of regional cruise taxes, as follows. In 1993 Caricom countries initially agreed to impose a minimum US$10 port head tax for cruise passengers but this was never implemented because of internal disagreements. A range of today’s head taxes in the Caribbean is as follows: US$18 – The Bahamas and The British Virgin Islands, US$15 – Jamaica, US$13.25 – Puerto Rico, US$7 – Belize, US$6 – St Kitts & Nevis, US$5 – St Lucia, US$4.50 – Grenada, US$1.50 – Dominican Republic.

Imagine the economic benefit, if these cruise tax rates could be increased and standardized across the region at the higher levels listed. One directly relevant and current challenge could be addressed – the current sky-high airport and air ticket taxes in the region could be reduced to help increase the volume of stay-over visitors in the Caribbean.

Stay-over travellers, whether intra-regional or from outside the Caribbean, spend very much more than cruise ship passengers and generate considerably more local employment than today’s cruise ship business model, which is now highly exploitive of Caribbean countries. An increase in stay-over visitors drives the development of more hotels and marinas, as well as many other forms of real estate and tourism infrastructure investment. Reduced air ticket prices keep intra-regional airlines, like LIAT, flying and increase the number of airline seats in to Caribbean destinations from the rest of the world.

The cruise industry business model has changed radically and aggressively in the last fifteen years and should no longer be viewed as an ideal “partner” for the countries of the Caribbean. There is a growing sense in the islands with the highest cruise ship volumes, like St Thomas and Sint Maarten, that today’s port taxes are not adequate compensation for the overcrowding of down town areas, the pollution from the burning of heavy fuel oil and the minimal spend ashore of today’s cruise ship passengers. The mega ships now have multiple shops, casinos, restaurants and bars offering all inclusive packages that totally distract passengers from spending ashore. In the last twenty years ships’ commissions on shore excursions have risen from 10% to 50%, discouraging passengers from going ashore at all and squeezing any possible profit margin for local tour operators. Today, over 80% of a cruise ship passenger’s DISCRETIONARY spend is on board.

Most cruise ships enjoy a double high season – Caribbean for less than six months and the balance of the year in Alaska or the Mediterranean – operating virtually free of corporation taxes and with very low wage bills. The largest ships cost less than US$300,000 per cabin to build, while new hotel rooms in the Caribbean cost double that figure per room to develop and have only one high season. The cruise ship’s highly competitive business model and the further recent growth of cruise tourism in the region might be viewed as a direct disincentive for resort investment and re-investment in the Caribbean.

The total number of cruise ship passengers was over 27 million world-wide in 2018, up nearly 10% from two years earlier. In the next ten years, 106 new ships are expected to enter service and, currently, over 50% of the world’s cruise fleet is based in the Caribbean for the Winter. The hugely profitable cruise industry can afford to absorb higher port taxes in the Caribbean and will do so, once faced with a stronger negotiating entity.

Do not believe any cruise line threats that they can pull out of the region all together. The Caribbean is the only archipelago with natural beauty and sophisticated tourism infrastructure, located directly between the established feeder cruise markets of North America and Europe and the growth feeder market of South America.

Is it not now abundantly clear that, at the very least, there is an absolute logic to rebalance the tax burden between the Caribbean’s stay-over visitor and the cruise ship passenger?

Robert MacLellan
Managing Director
MacLellan & Associates
Note: MacLellan & Associates is the largest hospitality consultancy based in the Caribbean. Robert MacLellan is a veteran of the hotel and resort industry. In his early career, he was an onboard hotel officer with a major cruise line and, later, a Vice President of an explorer cruise line.
For further information: Contact robert@maclellancaribbean.com

PSV OWNERS RESPOND TO BARBADOS TODAY EDITORIAL “GREED AT ANY SPEED”

Press Release from Association of Public Transport Operators (APTO)

When the Association of Public Transport Operators (APTO) and the Alliance of Owners of Public Transport (AOPT) held discussions with Government in July last year about the poor financial condition of the PSV sector, specifically minibuses and route taxis, they presented a case for an increase in the bus fare charged to commuters, citing the steady increase in operating costs since the previous increase in January 2011 and in particular, the additional heavy financial burden placed on the sector by the introduction of the fuel tax of forty cents per litre on diesel in July last year.

At that meeting, Government’s position was that while it understood the need for a fare increase, it was not prepared to grant any increase in bus fare unless measures were put in place to halt the indiscipline of PSV operators on the roads and the flouting of traffic laws. Government identified the competitive conditions of operation of the sector, created by the lease payment and the percentage payment systems in use as the major causes of this indiscipline and suggested that order on the roads among PSV operators could not be achieved unless those payment systems were eliminated and a flat pay system instituted. The representative associations were tasked to present proposals to Government whereby discipline on the road by PSV operators could be achieved as a condition of an increase in bus fare.

At that meeting, the representatives of the sector had originally presented a case for an increase in the fare to $3, but after hearing the Government’s conditions, including a flat pay system, put forward that it would only become financially viable if the bus fare was set at $3.50.

In response to Government’s challenge to the sector to justify the requested increase in bus fare not only from a financial perspective, but from that of effecting the required change in the behavior of PSV operators on the road, the two representative owners’ associations on, 16th August 2018, jointly submitted a suite of proposals, designed specifically to achieve the latter. Those proposals included inter alia:

  1. The implementation of a cashless fare collection system, which would transfer control of the business’ income from the operators to the owner.
  2. The introduction of a flat pay system for operators, which would remove the competitive element. Operators would become subject to a structured and controlled earnings environment, to the benefit of the NIS and PAYE collection agencies.
  3. The banning, by law, of audio amplification equipment from PSV’s.
  4. The banning, by law, of musical air horns.
  5. The enforcement of the wearing of an agreed uniform.
  6. Drug and alcohol testing for operators.
  7. Training in customer service as a prerequisite to obtaining a PSV driver or conductor license.
  8. Documented evidence of satisfactory performance to support badge renewals.
  9. The implementation of a demerit point system.

Collaboration between the Transport Board and the PSV representative associations in the implementation of a cashless fare collection system was discussed and it was agreed that a joint launch of the system would be desirable.

For months, despite follow up letters in September and December, 2018, there was no response from Government until, to everyone’s surprise, the increase in the fare to $3.50 was announced, with effect from 15 April 2019, without any of the provisions made in the PSV representatives’ proposal being put in place.

In the period between August 2018 and 15th April 2019, Government had put out a tender for the supply to the Transport Board of between 120 and 180 electric powered buses “on a revenue sharing basis”. It was subsequently announced that an agreement had been reached with a private sector entity for the supply of these vehicles and that the Transport Board, as a result of that agreement, would cease to be an owner and operator of motor omnibuses, but would assume a regulatory function.

Government increased the fare unilaterally, without any further consultation with the private sector owners of PSV’s or without putting in place any of the arrangements it had proposed and to which PSV owners had agreed, to stem the indiscipline on the road. The indiscipline on the road therefore continues unabated as the status quo between owners’ demands for an increased daily lease amount and the operators’ expectation of an earnings increase as a result of the increased fare remains, along with the competition among operators on the percentage payment system.

Meanwhile, commuters justifiably feel aggrieved at what is considered an unreasonable fare increase with no commensurate improvement in the quality of service provided and PSV owners and operators, as a result, continue to be vilified, subjected to constant criticism by the general public and increasing legal censure by Government for the continuation of the flouting of traffic laws by PSV operators and what has become known as the ZR culture, because of what is essentially a Government failure to implement agreed changes in the operations and regulation of the sector.

Public Service Vehicle owners cannot continue to take all the blame in silence.

Related Link:

Greed at any Speed

The Adrian Loveridge Column – Is Antigua Based Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority Threat to Airline Industry?

After trying to avoid the subject intentionally for many years, is it now the time to focus all our attention that any change in the proposed majority beneficial ownership in LIAT (1974) Ltd could bring?

Following a whole pile of forays into competing with LIAT over the past couple of decades, which included Carib Express, RedJet, Caribbean Star and Sun, is now an opportune time to tempt other private sector airlines into our marketplace, to finally give some real competition and drive down fares?

To our south, the discovery and exploitation of substantial oil deposits off the coast of Guyana is already dramatically changing accommodation offerings and basic infrastructure. Additional airlift is already in place and this will only grow over the next few years.

Time will tell, if the Government of Guyana will plan for long term benefit of its citizens and channel some of this vast revenue into a sovereign wealth fund, like Norway did, which is now the largest of its kind in the world.

To the north, privately owned airlines like InterCaribbean Airways are continuing to expand and are currently pushing south as far as St. Lucia. Their aircraft fleet include eight 30-seat Embraer 120’s, two 19 seat Twin Otters, one 9 seat Britten Norman Islander and a Citation Jet which is used for executive charters. The airline presently operate to 22 cities in 13 countries, many of which do not have existing direct or one-stop connections to the south of the region.

The Embraer 120* has a range of 1,750 kilometers or 1,088 miles, with a cruise speed of 298 knots or 343 miles per hour, so ideally suited for mid-distance Caribbean routes. *source Wikipedia.

The St. Maarten based Winair airline, while Government owned, has previously expressed an interest in operating to more southern Caribbean destinations including Barbados. Their fleet includes ATR 42 – 300/320 aircraft with 48 seats which are wet-leased from Air Antilles*.

Air Antilles, the French West Indian carrier, already operates to Barbados, and like Winair, has some existing code sharing flight partnerships, but could they be encouraged to step-up capacity, especially if that helps feed additional French metropolitan and continental European visitors.

The biggest fly in the ointment might be the past record of various Governments and politicians who have interfered in the granting of route rights to airlines, interested in starting services.

A recent example is the Civil Aviation Minister of St. Lucia, Guy Joseph, pointing out to the media, that a number of airlines were seeking to operate in and out of that island but encountering difficulties acquiring the requisite licenses.

He went on to add, St. Lucia has hinted at the possibility of leaving the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA) claiming that the Antigua-based organization was hampering the development of the airline industry there.

I think all our policymakers have to be reminded that across the Caribbean, our hotels only managed an average annual occupancy of 63 per cent in 2018.

Of course, it doesn’t stop there.

Every other tourism related business is negatively affected by those empty rooms and massive employment opportunities lost, with its profound economic consequence across the Caribbean.

Plan to Increase Bus fare a Heartless Act

We haven’t made the decision if it will go up by a $1.50 or if it will go up by $2, we don’t know now, but certainly all of that has to be accessed to make a decision as to where bus fares will go – Minister of Transport William Duguid

During the debate of the 2019 Appropriations Bill and Estimates- The Standing Finance Committee, Minister Duguid felt sufficiently emboldened to announce that active consideration is being given to a hike in bus fare. The idea that the bus fare maybe increased by $1.50 or $2.00 smacks of a callousness which challenges rational thought.

After ten years of living in a challenging economic environment and the understandable fatigue that has enveloped the citizenry- Duguid’s revelation must be labelled no more than ‘flying the proverbial kite“.   There is no way the government of Barbados can consider raising bus fare in the economic climate of the BERT variety.

It is a nobrainer to the least observant that the segment of population dependent on public transport occupies the lower socio economic rung. For the government to have the ‘bravado’ to broach an increase in bus fare at this time smacks of political-rape.

Have the chickens coming home to roost?

  • The poor financial state of the Transport Board is a fact.
  • That successive governments have used the Transport Board as a political play ground is a fact.
  • That the last government supported the Transport Board to starve UCAL of resources and at the same time outsource work to private contractors for hundreds of thousands dollars is a fact.
  • The last Transport Board leadership under Sandra Forde despite expending hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain an old fleet was unable to purchase a single new bus, a fact.

The biggest irony is that we have the incumbent government signalling to increase bus fare to $4.00, however, the current financial state of the Transport Board is a result of political patronage practised by BOTH DLP and BLP over the years. There is the oft saying that a people get the government they deserve. This smells like a numbers game by accountants determined to shave numbers to fit into an excel worksheet.

In a related matter the blogmaster took careful note of former Minister of Transport Michael Lashley successful attempt to explore a ‘loophole’ in the law which saw Magistrate Graveney Bannister dismissing a case against a PSV worker he represented.

Huh?

 

The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – Of PSVs, Dress Codes and Vicarious Liability

I was especially intrigued this week by the action of the PSV employees to strike against commuters because of their dissatisfaction with being compelled to wear uniforms emblazoned with the logo of the Barbados Transport Authority rather than that of the owners of the vehicles, and the ensuing discussion in which I believed I heard, though I might be mistaken, that the owners of these vehicles are not responsible for the wrongful acts committed by the workers on them.

These two issues raise interesting points for legal study; first; the statal authority’s entitlement to prescribe the form of dress that a worker engaged in a private contract of employment under its regulation should adopt and, second; the notion of an employer’s liability for the wrongs of those in its employ, the common law doctrine of vicarious liability that is currently undergoing what may be justifiably described as seismic change.

As for the first, we may take as our point of departure that what one chooses to wear is essentially an exercise of his or her constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression, although it is entirely possible individually to cede away this right by contract or some other mechanism. Indeed, the opening words of the relevant provision in our Constitution makes this clear-

Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression…” (emphasis mine)

Most frequently, this freedom of expression in respect of dress is conceded in the context of schools or other kindred organizations and of employment where the state, school authority or the employer competently determines what would be considered acceptable dress while engaged in the contracted activity.

It may also be subject to the demands of the occupier of the premises upon which the individual proposes to enter lawfully. And while some of these conditions may be questioned for their correlation with common sense such as the prohibitions on arm holed dresses for women and shorts for men in some places, it is perfectly within the remit of the occupier, whether the state or a private entity, to determine the conditions of entry onto their premises. And, of course, there may be constitutional legislative prohibition on certain forms of dress may be gleaned from the recent Caribbean Court of Justice ruling in the Guyanese cross- dressing case

According to the state action doctrine however, the constitutional fundamental rights are ordinarily enforceable against the state or state entities only, so that at first blush, unless the state or the entity falls within the role of school authority, employer or occupier or unless there is appropriate legislation, the state and its corresponding agents should have little authority to determine what an individual chooses to wear at any time.

Moreover, the unilateral requirement for the PSV workers to wear the logo of the Authority would seem impermissibly to override the managerial prerogative of the owner/employer of the PSV operation to determine the required mode of dress of its employees. One could scarcely conceive of the Fair Trading Commission mandating the uniform of the workers of the telecom company or of the BWA or of the Financial Services Commission directing what the employee of any given credit union should wear.

On these bases, the Transport Authority would be required to show that its mandate is a proportionate response or, as the Constitution puts it, that it is reasonably required in the circumstances. The objective of bringing some order to this notoriously intractable sector is doubtless a laudable one, but reasonableness in this context would demand that the Authority should infringe as little as possible on the fundamental right of the employee and, arguably, in this case, the employer.

The notoriety of the sector would naturally make it difficult for the commuting public to see any virtue at all in it, but on this occasion I do believe that it has a valid point. If the owners are of a similar view, I do not believe that the door is or should be closed for further collective negotiation and compromise on the matter.

Vicarious Liability
As I stated above, I thought that I heard at some time last week that the PSV owner was not to be considered liable (vicariously) for the wrongful acts of the workers on his, her, or its vehicle. If so, this would be a gross misstatement of the current state of that area of law that most agree is undergoing a sea change. I do not intend to bore my readers on the first Sunday of 2019 with a prolix disquisition of the principles in this area, but suffice it to say that here the title of Chinua Achebe’s classic novel, “Things Fall Apart”, aptly describes the current state of affairs.

For instance, where once the law required for the mainly tortious liability of the worker a relationship of employer and employee, the common law has now stretched the law so as to include those in a relationship “akin to employment”, a category that has so far been held to include that between (i) a prisoner who negligently injured a kitchen assistant on the prison kitchen and the Ministry of Justice, (ii) a doctor in private medical practice and the bank that hired him to carry out medical examinations of potential employees and (iii) even a local council and foster parents who physically and sexually abused a child placed in their care by the council. Given these holdings, it would arguably be an easy step to form an opinion that a PSV owner and the driver or conductor are engaged at least in a relationship “akin to employment”… if not the real thing.

Second, there has also been a broadening of the principles governing whether an act occurs, as is required, in the course of employment. Now, the law requires merely a sufficiently close connection between the wrongful act and the employment for liability to exist. Again here, it is arguably difficult to conceive of any act connected with the operation of the vehicle by those who work on it that would not fall within this notion.

All the best for 2019 to you, dear reader.