Less than a week after they were promised fuel support from the Government, maxi taxi owners were all smiles yesterday as they collected their $2,000 cheques.
In a distribution ceremony at the Ministry of Works headquarters in Port of Spain, 36 maxi taxi owners from the Association of Maxi Taxis were given their grants.
Addressing them, Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan said the Government acknowledged that the industry was hard hit by the restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
He said in total, there are 6,500 maxi taxis registered with the Ministry but not all of those are working.
“That is why we put some simple stipulations that you have to comply with, and once you supply us with that information as you did, the ministry will prepare your cheques,” he said.
The stipulations are a valid insurance policy, the vehicle’s certified copy and a certificate of inspection.
Asked to clarify why the grant was given only to maxi taxi owners and not the drivers who operate them on a daily basis, Sinanan said, “Because we recognise some maxi taxis have four owners. It's a fuel grant, this grant is for fuel. At the end of the day, we can’t give every driver a grant. There are other grants available at the Ministry of Social Development that you all are free to access once you qualify for those grants.”
Association president, Ian Hewitt told Guardian Media the grants will be used for fuel support.
“It’s for fuel, the money is to go for fuel so whether the owner put it or the driver put it, it will be going in the tank for fuel,” he said.
Association Vice-President Linus Phillip said the money was given to the owners, who will decide how much is given to the drivers of the vehicles for fuel, in cases where more than one driver operates a single maxi taxi. In the past, Phillip has said that a significant number of maxi taxi drivers do not own the vehicles they operate and they pay a daily rate to the vehicle’s owner for its use.
Asked about similar support for taxi drivers, Sinanan said that decision lies with the Ministry of Finance.
“The Ministry of Finance will be the one who decides who gets the grant, and which grant they get. We are really the execution arm of it.”
Sinanan said the Government cannot control whether taxi drivers, who say they are reeling from carrying half their passenger load with the same operating costs, increase their fares.
However, he said they can ensure the Public Service Transport Commission (PTSC) improves its service.
He also proposed added another water taxi to the current fleet to accommodate the travelling public. He said there is currently no need for three vessels on the inter-island route as there is not much traffic between the islands.
“We do not have the capacity in terms of passenger load, we don’t have that amount of people commuting between Trinidad and Tobago so we are looking now at one of these vessels and looking at a route from Point Fortin to San Fernando to Port of Spain and on weekends, Port of Spain to Chaguaramas once the demand is there,” he said.