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Thursday 14 December 2017

Taxi drivers struggle with fuel, tyre cost hikes

Heading west: A passenger enters a taxi on the Diego Martin/Petit Valley stand in Port of Spain. Taxi drivers struggle with rising costs and may raise their fares. Photo by Enrique Assoon

Taxi associations may have borne the burden of increases in fuel costs over the past few budgets, but the hikes in prices and taxes on fuel and tyres in the 2018 budget may be too much to allow them to continue doing so. Therefore, commuters should expect an increase in most fares.

Last Monday, during his 2018 budget presentation, Finance Minister Colm Imbert announced the price of super fuel would be increased from $3.58 to $3.97 per litre and diesel would increase from $2.30 to $3.41 per litre with immediate effect. He also said customs duty on new and used imported tyres would increase from 15 to 30 per cent to be implemented on October 20.

In light of these measures, a Petit Valley driver felt strongly that the Diego Martin/Petit Valley Taxi Association should raise the fare even though it was increased by $2 last November. As it was, he said, drivers did not make much money.

“The way they raised the price of gas with this budget, they basically took away everything we gained on November 11. And it was less than a year ago so we can’t raise it again. Men paying $100,000 to buy a car and register it as a taxi but people upset to pay $7 although they paying $50 to see a movie at MovieTowne without blinking.”

Rey Rodriguez, an executive member of the Diego Martin/Petit Valley Taxi Association, said while members were yet to meet to discuss the situation, he too did not believe they would raise the fare again even though things were difficult for drivers.

He told Sunday Newsday drivers on his route would make it from Port-of-Spain to Diego Martin or Petit Valley and back four or five times for the day. He said seven years ago he could make $1,000 a day after paying for gas. Now, he said some people made as little as $200 before filling their tanks at the end of the day after waiting on the stand for long periods and in heavy traffic at peak hours.

In addition, he said, taxis were inspected by the licensing office every year so vehicles had to be well maintained. He said tune ups could cost between $500 to $1,000 as the vehicles’ oil had to be changed every month or two at $200 a gallon, then they had to purchase gas and air filters, spark plugs and other parts before paying for labour. “It’s not really worth it right now being a taxi driver,” he said.

A Curepe driver, who had been driving a taxi for 34 years, agreed with Rodriguez saying it “made no sense to work a taxi anymore.”

He said drivers would have to work for an extra $50 to $60 per day for diesel. However, while drivers of seven-seater vehicles made $48 on a trip from town, they had no taxi stand in Curepe so they returned to town empty as they rarely got passengers heading east on the highway. To add to that difficulty, he said private hire (PH) drivers “take over” the stand and many Chaguanas and San Fernando drivers also work the Curepe route when their stands had few passengers.

He believed taxi drivers would wait to see if the maxi taxi drivers would raise their prices and follow their lead.

Jimmy Haynes, vice president of the Arima Highway/Port-of-Spain Taxi Association on the Arima taxi stand on Henry Street, Port-of-Spain. PHOTO BY JANELLE DE SOUZA

Jimmy Haynes, vice president of the Arima Highway/Port-of-Spain Taxi Association, said most of the drivers on his stand did not own the vehicle they drove. He said the increase in the cost of fuel would severely affect these drivers as they would have to first pay the owners, full the gas tanks, then pay themselves.

However, since he owned and worked his own vehicle, he said the increase in the price of tyres would affect him more as he had to change tyres every three to six months. He said previously one new tyre cost him $450, but that would soon raise to about $520.

He said while the association was also yet to meet, because of these reasons he believed most drivers would want to raise the fare from $9 to $10.

A driver on the Chaguanas to Port-of-Spain route, who preferred to be called Mr Thompson, broke it down even further as he made calculations for his seven-seater vehicle as soon as he heard the budget announcement.

Thompson explained that, on average, a driver working from 6 am to 6 pm on weekdays could make five trips a day at $11 per person. He said before the increase on Monday, he would spend about $125 on gas. Now he spent $150, raising his monthly gas bill from $3,000 to $3,500.

Although different vehicles had different maintenance schedules, he said a driver would spend an average of $700 every month on tyres, brakes, filters, oil, and other fluids such as power steering, coolant, transmission, brakes, and more.

“The average driver barely makes ends meet because most of them are still paying for their vehicles, have mortgages or rent, families to care for which includes children to send to school which means books, uniforms, sneakers, etc. And then they have to maintain their vehicles and pay for gas.”

He therefore believed with all the increases, many drivers would find it challenging to make ends meet.

St Ann’s and St James drivers however believed the budget as a whole would put taxi drivers in more difficulty.

“When companies start to lay people off and with all the new taxes people have to pay, what do you think people would do to make money. More people will be coming out in their cars to pull bull. What will happen to us then?”

Drivers said the large number of PH taxis on their routes were already affecting them more than the cost increase of gas or tyres ever could. He said if the Commissioner of Police enforced the law and stopped PH drivers from acting illegally, taxi drivers would get full trips both too and from Port of Spain which could even allow them to lower their fares.

“As it is now, we have to wait long long to full at the stand and when you hit the road you’re not sure to come back with any passengers. And then there are the restrictions that stop us from going on certain roads that the PH cars can go, making it easier for them to get passengers.”

He said the PH problem was so bad that after 6 pm, hardly any passengers made their way to the taxi stands so drivers no longer bothered to work on evenings, further cutting into their income.

Despite it all, most taxi drivers said while the new budget would hurt many of them financially, they had no choice but to adjust and pay the price.


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