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Our View: Previous government to blame for public transport mess

Just 13 per cent of the sample said they had chosen more environmentally friendly transport such as walking, cycling or using public transport in the past six months

HOW FUNNY that the government has just realised that workers in the public bus companies also qualified as public employees and therefore should have had their wages cut like everyone else in the public sector. This had not crossed the mind of anyone when the pay cuts were being made in the broader sector.

However, the government asked for the opinion of the legal services which said that as more than 50 per cent of the revenue of the bus companies was from the state, they should also have been subject to cuts in their grants as per article 20 of the 2013 state budget law. The cut in the grant should have led to the same pay cuts imposed in the rest of the public sector.

Unions, predictably, were not thrilled with the news they heard at Tuesday’s House labour committee meeting, because some of the bus companies had already imposed pay cuts on their staff, and spoke of dynamic measures. Why they reacted in this way was difficult to comprehend as those that had their pay cut would not, presumably, have it cut again.

But there is certainly scope for cuts, the supervisory department at the communications ministry told the committee, citing the payroll of the Nicosia bus company OSEL as an example. OSEL has 374 employees on its payroll, one third of whom, receive a wage of more than €2,000 per month; the managers of the companies earned in excess of €6,000 per month.

Not only is there scope for pay cuts, there is probably also scope for staff cuts. It suffices to say that the bus companies were set up by the Christofias government that was notorious for wasting the taxpayer’s money. The ridiculously favourable terms the companies were granted have been re-negotiated in an attempt to save the state some money.

But high costs were never any concern of the previous government, which apart from the ultra-generous terms also sanctioned the purchase of very large, uneconomical buses that are, at best half-empty. These petrol-guzzling buses are also impractically big for our towns’ narrow roads, but nobody thought of this when their purchase was being decided.

It would be too costly to replace the buses now, which is why the government came up with the idea of bus fares for students and pensioner and will now push for pay cuts. It has been savagely attacked by opposition parties over the bus fares and will be pilloried for the proposed pay cuts as well. But if the AKEL government and its EDEK communications minister had been more cost-conscious when setting up the bus companies public transport would not have been such a drain on state finances.

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