By Peter Stevenson
THE Cabinet on Thursday approved a proposal by the Communications Ministry to fix bus fares for school students to €10 a month for all routes, all-year-round, reducing it from €15 a month which was in force from January.
The €15 monthly fare was introduced amid heavy criticism and warnings of retaliatory measures from both students’ and parents’ associations bodies.
The fare, formerly subsidised in full by the state, was introduced by the previous government in December 2012 but implementation was pushed back from October 2013 to January 2014 in the face of severe public pressure.
Student bus passes were valid for school routes only, with unlimited routes costing an additional €5 but now the €10 fee covers all routes, 12 months a year. Students whose families qualify for state welfare benefits are not forced to pay, and payment is limited to two students per family.
Sources at the communications ministry told the Cyprus Mail yesterday that the new fares would in all likelihood be introduced at the start of March and that an official announcement would be made on the matter next week.
“We received verbal confirmation of the change from the minister on Thursday following the Cabinet meeting. This reduction will of course mean less money will be coming in to state coffers but the change has been made as the ministry is trying to give incentives to students to use buses,” she said.
It is believed that by increasing the number of school pupils using buses, state revenue will eventually rise despite a decrease in the cost of bus fares.
Pensioners who have also protested the introduction of bus fares have not been affected by the change and will continue to pay €15 a month the source said. It is likely the subject of possibly reducing pensioners bus fares will be discussed at the next Cabinet meeting, she added.
“The new fees will mean students will be able to take the bus outside of school hours too, using the same bus passes which basically cuts the price they were paying in two,” she said.
In cases of students that are not covered by regulations providing free public transport, each school will have a special unit which will look at cases of students who are unable to pay their bus fares the source said.
“This unit will work in a discreet manner to make sure those students who have financial difficulties and may not fit the required criteria for free bus passes are able to travel freely on buses,” she said.
This new move was not positively greeted by student body PSEM who said despite their compromise to accept a more targeted system that would exclude anyone with financial difficulties the government has gone ahead with just a reduction.
“It’s simple, if a student didn’t have €15 to pay for bus fares before, he won’t have €10 now either,” head of PSEM Panayiotis Monoyios told the Cyprus Mail.
PSEM, he said, are in contact with teachers’ and parents’ unions to see what further actions will be taken to let the communications ministry know that they are not happy with his new development.