|Water taxi merger and fare increase has not translated into better service.|
The Caye Caulker Water Taxi and the San Pedro Belize Express appear to have merged into one association, with an increase in fares that commuters feel has not translated into better service.
An increase in fuel prices is said to have prompted the fare hike, but the amalgamation of the two taxi groups has produced some changes in schedule, and now there is no 'express' run either to Caye Caulker or San Pedro.
According to Area Representative for Belize Rural South, Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr, who is also the Minister for Tourism and Aviation, the matter has been brought to Cabinet. He said the Port Authority will step in and speak with both operators.
Heredia said the Minister of Transport Hon. Melvin Hulse has spoken to the operators and they have agreed on a timeframe that they have to go back to the original $55 fare for round trips to San Pedro. He said if the operators want to raise their price, they would have to take the matter up with the Port Authority.
Minister Heredia added that if the service provided was not as good as it was in the past, then other interested parties should be invited to get into the business and offer the best quality of service that customers deserve. He said "let's see what happens first and then move forward."
According to Minister Heredia, he knows for a fact San Pedro Belize Express and Caye Caulker water taxi have agreed to a semi-merger to try to control the market. He said that is not in the best interest of the commuters.
The Caye Caulker Water Taxi Association is reportedly in debt to the tune of over $1 million.
According to Harrison Longsworth from San Pedro, a monopoly in the water taxi operation is a scourge. He said a merger of the water taxi operations that serve the island presents a predicament for everyone who must travel the seas, some of them daily to carry on their businesses or to attend school on the mainland or (in the case of Caye Caulker) the bigger island of San Pedro.
He added that the obvious consolidation of the two entities is already wreaking havoc with the finances of the local people.
Longsworth said the consolidation is evidenced by several stark changes that have been imposed over the last week or so:
1) The adult return fare from San Pedro to Belize has been raised from $35.00 to $60.00, a hike of 71%. A one way fare is $30.00; there is no benefit in purchasing a round trip.
2) Children from three years of age must now pay a fare of $15.00 to ride the boats.
3) Student fares have been raised for students from San Pedro to Belize City from $25.00 to $30.00; and for students from Caye Caulker to San Pedro from $10.00 to $20.00- a 100% hike.
4) According to the posted schedule , the number of runs has been reduced by 50%...... overcrowding of the boats is now placing the lives of riders in jeopardy and there have been delays of up to 15 minutes while an earlier boat waits in Caye Caulker to accept transfers of passengers. The vigilance of the Port Authority seems to have diminished significantly. In one instance when they were alerted of overcrowding by phone by a concerned regular traveler there were no officers at the arrival terminal in Belize City even though they had 40 minutes to respond.
5)Departures from the Belize City terminal have been delayed up to 20 minutes while waiting to accommodate late-comers at the expense of other timely travellers.
6) Some 30 persons have lost their jobsin the shuffle.
7) The 7 a.m. run from Caye Caulker to San Pedro has been discontinued and the students will have to leave home 30 minutes earlier on the 6.30 a.m. run to get to school at 8 o'clock.
8) There is now a minimal number of luggage handlers and the service on the dock has deteriorated terribly.
9) The atmosphere at the terminals has now become somber and unpleasant.
"Competition safeguards the interest of the people. The people always win when there is competition in business", Longsworth said.
He warns his fellow San Pedranos that their livelihoods are at stake. He further warns that their tourism product will be badly compromised if they allow this to continue.
"You must start to think of how best to combat this enemy of our people," Longsworth said.