KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – The National Omnibus Association (NOBA) announced Tuesday that it has called off the three-day strike one day early and reverted to the 2005 fares, which will see commuters paying less than the fares approved this month.
Further, NOBA president Anthony Bacchus admitted on radio Tuesday night that his association had failed operators in half of the fare districts and said there would not be another strike anytime soon.
He had earlier this month admitted to making a mistake during negotiations with the government, paying insufficient attention to the fare structure for travel to the north of the country, the least lucrative and physically most taxing routes.
“I can assure you that there will not be a strike for a long, long time,” Bacchus said as he announced that NOBA would be “establishing” its members formally so that they can be recognised by the public.
“We are going to come to a point where we are going to get our own insurance, and … the members that have that insurance, if … there comes a time when we have to take action, the insurance will include [compensation],” Bacchus explained.
Bacchus and NOBA’s Marriaqua representative, Leonard Keil, spoke on Bert Francois’ “Current Affairs” on Nice Radio.
The discussion suggested that the organisation was a fragmented one and Bacchus where “psychology and politics caused drivers to lose focus” and undermined the strike, aimed at securing fare increases in the other half of the 28 zones, where fares were not increased on Aug. 8.
“We did not accomplish our goal … in reference to helping out those people that didn’t get an increase. So, in solidarity, we are gonna … accept the old fare [of June 2005]. So, we will like the travelling public to remember what they were paying before the increase. This is what the members of NOBA are going to go by,” Bacchus said.
Based on the fare review this month, all students in school uniform are to be transported at half price and pay the full fare otherwise.
However, NOBA operators wanted to revert to a 1982 law, which says students 4 to 11 years are to be transported at half price and those 11 to 16 years, at 75 per cent of the fare. Minibus operators have been using this statute for the past 15 years.
All students can now commute at half price whether or not they are in their uniform, Bacchus said, noting that operators can also charge the 2011 rates.
“We never agreed to the children rates that were gazetted [this month]. … However, he (Minister of Transport Sen. Julian Francis) still took it to Cabinet and got it gazetted,” Bacchus had said on Monday when the strike began.
Tuesday night, Bacchus, “trying to get back my riders”, used the radio programme to encourage commuters to travel with his minibus, saying that he personally will be implementing the 2005 fares.
However, the situation stands to further pit commuters against minibus operators since minibuses can also legally charge the fares approved on Aug. 8, which are higher than the 2005 rates.
The strike fell apart as operators in the 14 areas that got an increase took to the roads while their disgruntled colleagues withdrew their services.
“What I heard today and yesterday is like the same set of guys who were in the meeting, … were the same set of guys who were on the road yesterday (Monday) morning. And those are the people who make Mr. Bacchus look bad because those are the people who pushing things in his throat and say, ‘Okay, let’s go ahead with this,” Kile said Tuesday night.
NOBA called off the strike after a meeting with its members on Tuesday, Bacchus said.
Keil said that “at least 75 per cent” of NOBA members who attended an earlier meeting had agreed to strike.
“There was a lot of psychology played here with politics getting involved because it started to be political now,” Bacchus said, noting public comments that in withdrawing their services minibus operators will be striking against themselves.
“There was a lot of psychological effect that was thrown out there and was eating out these drivers and they lost their focus,” Bacchus said.
Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves on Monday encouraged NOBA to continue negotiations with transport officials, saying that by withdrawing their services NOBA members were striking against themselves.
“They got increases ranging from 25 cents to $1 to $1.50. Most of them are 50 cents though,” Gonsalves told journalists.
“I understand the challenges that some of the minibus operators have but I don’t see this as solving any problem. … Really, they should come and sit down and talk about all the issues rather than to withdraw [their services],” Gonsalves added.