The Georgetown/Vreed-en-Hoop speedboat operators have vowed to continue their strike until the fare is raised from $100 to $120, but Minister of Public Works Deodat Indar has stated that the Government will not approve any increase.
Numerous speedboat operators who run the route from Georgetown to Vreed-en-hoop went on strike on Friday, leaving scores of passengers—the majority of whom were headed to work—stranded at the Vreed-en-Hoop stelling.
However, many boats were dispatched with assistance from the Coast Guard, Police, Sheriff Security, and Maritime Administration Department to provide commuters with free transportation to and from Georgetown and Vreed-en-Hoop.
Minister within the Ministry of Public Works, Deodat Indar during a telephone conversation with They Break claimed that he had made arrangements for 14 speedboat operators from the Parika/Supernaam service to also be deployed to the Vreed-en Hoop stelling.
The minister informed that in response to Friday morning’s commuter delays, he along with President Irfaan Ali also facilitated the deployment of several of the Guyana Defence Force’s large buses to transport people from Vreed-en-Hoop to Georgetown via the Demerara Harbour Bridge since the motorcar drivers immediately increased the fares taking into account the circumstance.
He stated that despite his entreaties for the speedboat operators to call off the strike, they were resolute that it should go on. He said in the interim, Government will ensure that persons can cross the Demerara River through alternative means. According to him, Government has no intention to comply with the operators’ request at this time.
“We are not authorizing any increase,” he stated.
Two days ago, MARAD issued a notice to speedboat operators advising them not to increase the fare and stating that they would be subjected to disciplinary action if they did not heed the warning. Commuters were also advised to report operators who are demanding the additional fare.
The speedboat operators told They Break News that they have been asking for a $20 increase to the current fare for the past four months, but they had to stop operating after MARAD issued the notice warning commuters against the hike.
The increase is desperately required to offset the rising price of fuel and life jackets, they noted.
“The gas price is up, the oil to use to mix with the gas is up … We are not making anything, when we finish working at 8:00 p.m., our salary is $6000, when we take money from that to eat, there is nothing much left,” one of the operators said.
Another operator asserted that the fee has been at $100 for at least 15 years while drivers of minibuses and cars, operators on other routes, have all seen increases in fares.
The vast majority of commuters that They Break News spoke with indicated that they would pay the extra cost in order to go to work on time. One commuter claimed that the path is overrun by speedboats. In his opinion, fewer speedboats should be in operation so that the operators who are left may make a living wage. Another commuter complained that the additional $20 should be optional for travelers to pay.
The speedboat operators have all decided to keep striking until their demand is granted by the Government.
“This is injustice, we are going to continue with the strike until they give us what we want and we need the President to listen to us,” another operator added.
Thousands of people use river taxis to traverse the Demerara River on a daily basis.