STRIKES have become a regular occurrence at the Larnaca bus company Zenon. Every few months the bus drivers go on strike because the company has failed to pay their wages on time, citing inadequate funds.
This is followed by accusations against the transport ministry for failure to release the funds, by the company and claims by the ministry that the company was not due any more cash. There is inevitably a long bout of haggling between the two sides which results in the ministry handing over additional cash, probably as an advance on the next month’s handout, the drivers are paid and the strike is called off. Until the next time.
There have been strikes by bus drivers in the other towns as well, usually for the same reason, but not as frequently as in Larnaca. The Zenon company claims it is burdened with debts and last month used the money it received to pay off creditors, probably banking on the fact that the ministry would eventually bail it out rather than have angry bus drivers striking because they had not been paid. In fact, the striking bus drivers are used as a ploy by all the bus companies to squeeze additional funds out of the government.
Special knowledge of economics or finance is not required to deduce that the business model thought up for public transport was deeply flawed and heavily weighted in favour of the companies. It was to be expected from the Christofias government which showed an utter disregard for the taxpayer’s money and came up with a model that guaranteed high returns to the bus companies, made up of bus owners, regardless of how costly their operations were. Big salaries were paid to family members who were given executive posts, bus drivers were paid wages that had no bearing on the laws of supply and demand, and petrol-guzzling buses were bought.
The result is an unviable and wasteful service, because this is what happens when the state puts together a system without any consideration for the laws of the market. Subsidising public transport may be necessary, but the government should still try to control costs. There have been attempts to do this in the last few years but it has failed because the model was based on the wrong principles. All we can hope for now is that the transport ministry will devise a new model that will put in place when the current contract expires and new tenders are invited.