By Peter Stevenson
STUDENTS, parents and pensioners gathered on Thursday outside the communications ministry to ask that the government rethink its decision to begin charging students and pensioners bus fares,
Taking part in the protest were student body PSEM, secondary and technical school parent associations, teacher’s association’s OELMEK and OLTEK, the Pancyprian Large Family Association (POPO) and the Union of Cypriot Pensioners.
Both PSEM and the Pensioner’s Union handed over letters to ministry officials asking that their groups be excluded from paying.
Accepting the letter ministry official Aphrodite Kofterou said: “It was not our choice to introduce bus fares but it has come up due to troika. It was publicised back in December 2012,” she said.
She said the ministry did not want to make it difficult for students to get to school but it also did not want to treat other groups unfairly. The monthly €15 fare was imposed from January on secondary school students using public transport to and from school which was previously provided free of charge and subsidised by the state.
Head of PSEM Panayiotis Monoyios called on logic to prevail and demanded that the scheme be revised so students would not be in danger of missing school.
“Regardless of the financial situation we may find ourselves in, our right to education should be guaranteed,” he said.
The Pensioner’s Union general secretary Costas Skarparis said that due to the measures the current government has taken, the standard of living for the elderly has fallen by 30 per cent.
A 76-year-old man, Giorgos Tsianakkas told the Cyprus Mail that with the introduction of bus fares, hospital fees and a cut to pensions, he had been forced to ask for money from various sources to get by.
“I don’t understand why they are cutting money and then charging those same people who are already struggling,” he said.
Costas Theodosiou, 72, said: “We used to be able to put a little money on the side to give to our grandchildren who are now being forced to pay bus fares as well as us,” he said.
Head of the secondary and technical school parents association Stefanos Stefanou said that nothing had changed since the last house communications committee meeting despite the association having met on Wednesday with Transport Minister Tasos Mitsopoulos.
The issue will be discussed again next Thursday but consultations to resolve the issue will continue until then.