By Michelle Sutherland
The continuous fluctuation and unpredictability of fuel prices in the country have prompted the government to approve a fuel surcharge for water taxi operators, as they continue to serve the public amid the soaring cost of fuel.
The fuel surcharge is a separate additional fee that is added above the current contract rate when the cost of fuel exceeds a certain threshold and resulting in the subsequent increase in passenger fares. On Thursday, following up on consistent reports to our newsroom from irate customers stating that they have noticed a considerable increase in their tariffs, The Reporter reached out to Major Gilbert Swazo, ports commissioner of the Belize Port Authority, to investigate whether the increase in tariff was illegal or if it had been approved by the Belize Port Authority.
Swazo told our newsroom, “In truth and, in fact, the Belize Port Authority, effective 1st of June, approved a new passenger fare for respective water taxi operators, so that is a fact.”
Swazo added, “Let me state that this passenger fare increase is a fuel surcharge, which simply means that if fuel prices were to decrease then the passenger fare will automatically see a decrease in direct proportion to the fuel surcharge. Similarly, if fuel was to increase then the fuel surcharge will automatically be applied with a view to increasing the passenger fare.”
According to Swazo, the new formula was agreed upon due to the steady increase in fuel cost, which had become a burden to water taxi operators who requested an increase in passenger fares.
While Swazo could not give us the specific charges for the entire country, he told our newsroom that in July of last year, which was when the last price increase had been approved and fuel was less than $10:00 per gallon, San Pedro Belize Water Taxi Express was charging $35.00 for a one-way ticket from Belize City to San Pedro. Now with fuel prices soaring above the $13.00 mark, Swazo said that San Pedro Belize Water Taxi Express has been approved to charge passengers $41.00 for a one-way ticket for the same route.
While Swazo agreed that the prices in tariff will see continuous changes, he said that apart from dispatching marine enforcement officers to do regular spot checks, the department will also be launching a passenger verification system at every water taxi terminal across the country.
This new software will automatically file passengers' information, their fares, and their respective stops. This according to Swazo, apart from helping the department to monitor the number of passengers at any given time, will also ensure the safety of citizens and will ensure that passengers are not being arbitrarily charged and that the water taxi operators are operating within the confines of the regulations.
Swazo also clarified that the recent increase in tariffs that was implemented a couple of weeks ago was illegal and that the Belize Port Authority had already addressed that.
On Thursday, Cabinet issued a release in which it stated that the “Cabinet gave its approval for amendments to the statutory instrument regarding water taxi regulations to introduce provisions to improve the safety and efficiency of the water taxi industry.”