The Government of Guyana is looking at its legal and other options to block a move by the Berbice River Bridge Company to increase the tolls to cross the Berbice Bridge.
The company called a press conference this morning to announce that while it has not gotten approval from the Minister of Public Infrastructure, it will still be moving ahead with its plan to increase the tolls from November 12.
Under the company’s plan, motorists could find themselves paying increases of more than 300%.
Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson, called an emergency press conference this afternoon to make it clear that the Government is not in agreement with the move and will be doing all in its power to prevent the increases.
He told reporters that “my position remains the same. I will not be approving any toll increases for the Berbice River Bridge crossing and that is our position on that. We will be seeking legal advice from the Attorney General’s chambers on the legal applications on what is the power and authority under this act”.
He said he wants to assure Berbice residents that the Government will do all that is necessary to to ensure commuters will be able to continue to cross the bridge without any harassment or the increased tolls.
Minister Patterson said the Government currently spends an average of $155 million per year to subsidize the tolls for the Berbice Bridge and the move by the company to increase tolls could only be seen as “unconscionable”. He said the Bridge company has even turned down the Government’s offer to take over the maintenance of the pontoons for the bridge.
Patterson said the Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, who headed the former Government that signed off on the contract for the bridge, should make his views known on the latest turn of events. Patterson said the Berbice river bridge contract and all thats contained in it, falls squarely at the feet of Jagdeo and the former PPP Government.
Questioned about whether the Government would be willing to reintroduce the ferry service, the Minister explained that under the Act that established the Berbice Bridge Company, vessels that carry vehicles and goods are prohibited from crossing the Berbice river.
He said even if an amendment to the Act was made, there would be other issues. The Government would be forced to purchase new ferries and build new stellings since the ones that existed before the Bridge was built, were allowed to fall to pieces.
Patterson also explained that while the owners of the bridge have said that the Government should buy them out, they have failed to produce information related to their debts and an asking price.
The Minister also said it appears instructive that the Bridge company would look to increase its tolls on the same day that local government elections are to be held.
The Berbice Bridge Company claims that it has sought legal advice and as of November 12, it will be charging cars $8040 to cross the bridge, while pick-ups and 4 wheel drive vehicles will be asked to pay $14,600.
Mini-buses will be asked to pay $8040 while small trucks will see their bills going to $14,600. Additionally, the company wants medium trucks to pay $27, 720, large trucks to pay $49,600, freight would have to pay $1,680 and boats that will force the bridge to retract will now have to pay $401, 040.