Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Water taxi service under review

WATER taxi passengers are paying $15 to get from Port of Spain to San Fernando, but it’s actually costing taxpayers $115 to subsidise the trip, a sum that is almost twice as much what it costs to subsidise a flight between Trinidad and Tobago.

This is one of the reasons why the water taxi service, unknown to many, is currently under review by the Ministry of Transport and why the planned expansion of the service to Point Fortin has been shelved.

The discolsure was made last week by Transport Minister Devant Maharaj.

“It costs us cheaper to subsidise somebody flying from Trinidad to Tobago than somebody going by water taxi from Port of Spain to San Fernando (a 45-minute voyage),” said Maharaj.

He said there was a $50 subsidy by air from Trinidad to Tobago, while it costs the State $115 to subsidise the trip from Port of Spain to San Fernando by water taxi.

“Water taxis are subsidised all over the world, but the debt between the subsidy and the actual expenditure should not be such a yawning chasm and a drain on the Treasury. So in light of that, we are presently reviewing the operation of the entire water taxi service,” said the Minister.

Point Fortin Member of Parliament Paula Gopee-Scoon last week expressed concerns over the delay in the start of a jetty in the Point Fortin area to facilitate the introduction of the water taxi service there, which former transport minister Jack Warner had promised would begin earlier this year.

Gopee-Scoon told the Express she had met with National Infrastructural Development Company (NIDCO) CEO Dr Carson Charles and had been told that the construction of the jetty at Clifton Hill, Point Fortin—the agreed landing site for the water taxi—had been delayed because the Government was looking at another site.

“Maybe it is that the cost of the site at Clifton Hill was high so they sought to look at another site, but nobody contacted me about another site there. As to what progress they have made on it, not one cent has been released from the Transport Ministry under Devant Maharaj towards it,” she said.

Point Fortin Mayor Clyde Paul said work on the terminal was scheduled to begin on January 6 but he had heard nothing on it, although information was sent to the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) and NIDCO.“We had meetings at my office with the people from the Ministry of Works and NIDCO and work should have started. We haven’t heard anything on it but my information suggests that the present Minister of Transport has shelved the project,” said Paul.

“Now that is not very good news for the people of Point Fortin. We have problems for transport in Point Fortin and Atlantic has guaranteed their workers travelling to Point Fortin on the water taxi,” he said.

Commenting on the concerns expressed by Gopee-Scoon and Paul about the stalled project to Point Fortin, Maharaj said he wanted to remind the country that $35 million was spent for the water taxi MV Su and another $27 million for repairs on the MV Su, a vessel that is yet to sail.

“We spent millions on a boat that is yet to carry a single passenger—it cannot work.”

The MV Su was one of four used vessels bought by the PNM administration, but which proved defective or unsuitable for the purpose for which it was purchased.

Maharaj said: “I got a report in November that said the boat should be scrapped...they even advised me not to pay anyone to tow it because the cost to tow it would be more than the cost of the boat. And this is what Paula Gopee-Scoon was a part of.

“The (water taxis) MV Malencia and MV Katia are boats that have failed to perform. They were uneconomical for such heavy routes and they have passed their economic life so they cannot be commuting people up and down. And I am saying this Minister is not prepared to embark upon a venture with the taxpayers’ money like Gopee-Scoon and her cohorts under the PNM.”

Maharaj said the review of the service follows the findings of a recent survey to examine the fee structure of the water taxi service.

“In light of that review, Cabinet has agreed to remove the water taxi from National Infrastructural Development Company and put it under the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago and a transition team has been established to facilitate that move from NIDCO.

“It strains my imagination how the PNM could have placed the water taxi under a body that was controlling the building of roads.

NIDCO is not into transport, it is about building roads and project management. The logical fit in my mind would have been the inter-island ferry and the Port Authority—they already operate a service.”

He said the transition from NIDCO to the Port Authority has already started with meetings, but “We have to de-link because remember some debts and costs and so on have been incurred under NIDCO which will now have to be taken over by the Port Authority. Some staff will need to be transferred and their services and so on. All of those administrative things will need to be worked out”.

“But remember the financial comptroller of NIDCO also performs that function at Port Authority, so that function will now be taken over by their counterparts. At this point in time I have not been advised that there will be loss of jobs.”