In the face of the resistance from the Berbice Bridge Company to lower the tolls for the bridge, the government on Friday announced its intention to launch a water taxi service.
State Minister Joseph Harmon said the service will commence even as the government continues to engage the bridge company to consider and facilitate, in the first stage, a $300 reduction in tolls for buses and cars and a 10% reduction for all other vehicles.
Speaking to media operatives at a post Cabinet briefing, Harmon said the service will commence in the near future in the form of a pilot project to move persons from the West Bank of the Berbice River to the East.
It is aimed at bringing relief specifically to school children and the elderly and will start with two boats, similarly to those that currently ply the Demerara River between Vreed – en – Hoop and Georgetown.
A committee comprising officials from several ministries will travel to the site this weekend, to put the necessary arrangements in place.
The State Minister said if the pilot project is successful the government will seek to increase the number of boats.
Harmon maintained that the government was still hopeful that the bridge company would lower the tolls and as such the Finance Minister has been instructed by Cabinet to continue the engagement with the Bridge company.
He rejected the company’s contention that it stands to lose from the lowering of tolls through the arrangement which the government has put forward.
According to Harmon, the government will not be able to assist those attempting to cross the river using their own vehicles since the current contract with the bridge company prohibits the use of vessels for the crossing of vehicles.
“We don’t want to send a message to investors that once you invest your money that the government will step in and take over… so we will continue our engagements with the bridge and hope that they accept the government’s offer,” Harmon said.
The Finance Minister, during his 2015 budget presentation announced that the tolls for buses and cars would be reduced from $2200 to $1900, representing a 13.6% reduction while the tolls for all other vehicles will be reduced by 10%, commencing September 1.
To facilitate this reduction, the government has set aside $36 million in the 2015 budget as subsidy for the Bridge. Jordan explained that the government is likely to pay the bridge between $120 – $140 million annually in subsidies as the phased reduction in tolls is advanced.
The reduction has so far failed to materialize as the company is now demanding an extension in the concession period from 21 years to 40 years or for the APNU+AFC government to give consideration to an application for an increase in toll made to the PPP/C Government on March 15, 2015. The government has refused to agree to such a request, contending that it will place additional burden on the already suffering traveling public.