Following last Monday’s meeting between Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and stakeholders on improving the operations of the ferry service on the sea bridge, Government has considered five measures in the short, medium and long term measures to treat with the issues comprehensively.
This includes the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (PATT) being mandated to find a passenger ferry in the shortest possible time, Government to order a custom-built ferry, Tobago to operate ferries, and the expansion of the board of directors of PATT to include two more Tobagonians.
Rowley has also agreed to consider, after discussions with the Minister of Finance, the removal of the hotel tax which threatens hoteliers ability to survive in the present circumstances given the disruptions and consequent loss of income associated with the ferry problems.
In addition, Government is to review Caribbean Airlines Limited (CAL) booking policy for travel to and from Tobago.
This is according to the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) which noted in a release issued yesterday that the measures were put forward by the stakeholders.
With one ferry out of commission and another due to go on dry dock for extensive repairs, Government has instructed the PATT to broaden its search for a suitable replacement ferry, wherever vessels are available, and whether held by owners or brokers.
During the last search, OPM said, the PATT restricted its search, and selected a passenger ferry under questionable circumstances. This selection process is now being investigated.
Rowley is quoted as saying that the search should be easier with the summer at an end. Looking for a vessel in September and October, he said, is a easier than looking in June or July when there are increases in traffic in the northern hemisphere and everyone is using their vessel.
“Now moving into fall and winter, there should be more available, but we must broaden our search. Whatever went wrong with regard to the restriction of the search ought not to form part of a new search. So we will be working overtime to get a passenger vessel here in the shortest possible time.”
Once found, Government will seek to enter into a two to three-year contract while moving to order a custom-built ferry.
Cabinet has decided to place an order for a brand new ferry that will be built to specifications. It will be State-owned and operated by the PATT. The tender is expected to go out for bids soon.
On Tobago operating the ferries, the OPM said, Rowley believes that given Tobago’s reliance on them for sustenance, the service should be operated out of Tobago and under the guidance of Tobago.
The people of Tobago, he said, have demonstrated an ability to manage their own affairs in other areas and they should be allowed to manage this facility.
“You should be looking after your welfare in these areas and of course, when we add that to the phasing in of other medium-term and long-term arrangements, we have every confidence that Tobago’s economy, in the hands of Tobagonians as part of the national effort, would progress to a better place,” he said.
Meanwhile the PATT’s board will include two more Tobagonians bringing the number of Tobagonians on the board to three.
“We believe that the Port Authority must have a larger Tobago interest on the board because Tobago relies so much more on the port than other communities,” he said.
On improvement to CAL operations, the airline will continue to make additional seating available for travel between Trinidad and Tobago.
The Cabinet, the OPM said, is to make a decision on CAL’s current booking policy.
“We are operating in a system where people can book at will and cancel at will without penalty. This matter has come before the Cabinet. Some adjustments will have to be made.”
He said there were some “98,000 cancellations which took place at CAL recently with respect to seats that were booked by people who did not travel. Bookings force people to travel on standby.
He said he also wants to see more Tobagonians represented on the airline’s board.