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Bus operators in St. Vincent and the Grenadines may soon find their backs against the wall of public opinion, as they continue to procrastinate in becoming organised.
A vicious dog-eat-dog modus operandi but unscrupulous bus operators whose only aim is to suck the dollar blood out of the passengers’ stones, as they attempt to meet the demands of bus owners, and their own ‘hanging-of-their-hats-higher-than-they-can-reach’ lifestyles.
Adding more pressure to this volatile mix is the increasing costs of maintaining a workable bus, and the costs associated in having the most powerful music system, graphics, large rims, and tinted windows.
However, what will light the fuse is the failure by Vincentian bus operators to organize themselves into a viable and profitable National Omnibus Association – NOBA as it is called right now, with vibrant affiliated community or route associations.
According to current president Anthony ‘Code Red’ Bacchus, and reiterated by Minister of Transport Senator Julian Francis, there has been many attempts.
However, a multiplicity of factors amongst which are administrative and lack of support from the very men and women it is to benefit, have seen start-stop-start-again taking place over the years.
Recently in a move to galvanise support from amongst bus operators and to reignite interest in the body, Bacchus submitted a number of proposals to the Government, amongst them duty-free on Hankook tyres, a fast route out of Kingstown for buses between 4 – 6 p.m., a bus stop near Daddy’s shop to facilitate persons dropping off to conduct business at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital, and to facilitate dropping off elderly persons in front of CIBC First Caribbean International.
Three of proposals are well intended for it would improve upon the service to the travelling public. However, the request for duty-free concessions on Hankook tyres could very well spark off protests for it is narrowed down to one brand of tyres, with other private sector interests demanding that the Ralph Gonsalves Cabinet to grant them a similar deal.
Notwithstanding, the question, which is one everyone’s mind – ‘will the bus operators if the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines grant them all of these requests, provide a better quality service to the Vincentian travelling public?’
The answer, taking into consideration the present behaviour of bus operators and seemingly lack of effective collective administrative leadership, is a resounding no.
Bus operators in St. Vincent and the Grenadines must without fail make their top priorities, a number of issues. In doing so, they will have to bite the bullet now by doing what many cry out for but is only a dream.
They must give and take; they must meet the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines halfway, so the nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines will be the ultimate beneficiary.
- The comfort and safety of all passengers is and must remain the number one priority.
- They are service providers, and as a result, the service must be second to none, which would not only bring increase benefits to them, but also enhance the island’s tourism product.
- Bus operators are partners in nation building, and therefore must at all times, reduce the demand on the public purse.
- Organise community/route bus associations as the foundation for a vibrant umbrella organization — NOBA.
- Take over the management of the bus terminal, and in so doing bring order to the queuing of buses, reduce noise pollution, and eliminate the perception of constant police harassment.
- Review the Constitution of NOBA, and introduce Codes of Discipline for bus operators, passengers, and bus stands, respectively.
- Reduce their individual operating costs by making balance yet effective representation to both the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the private sector, aimed at the collective wellbeing of the state.
- When and where possible own in full or in part petrol stations, spare parts dealerships, seek beneficial group insurance packages for bus operators/drivers and their immediate families, and the passengers.
- Work in partnership with Parent Teacher Associations and other civil groups to improve the social development of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
- Improve the hours of service with a balance schedule of work hours for bus operators for all communities, aimed at increasing the man hours of productivity not just for the bus operator, but the private sector.
- Introduce a medallion type system, which would enable the bus operators to have another source of collateral and possibly income as is currently the case in Saint Lucia.
- To obtain a license to operate a bus to transport members of the travelling public, the route association must issue a letter of commendation, which would be support by a letter from NOBA, before the financial institution grant the funding to purchase the vehicle.
- Introduce the Defensive Driving Course for bus operators and conductors. Such a course must include business management, customer service, traffic laws, principles of safety, and a minimum ten-year driving experience before one is issued a license to drive a passenger bus.
- Colour coding of registration plates for all classes of vehicles so the bona fide buses, taxis, rentals, private and government vehicles, respectively could be easily identified.
- NOBA establish a secretariat to manage the affairs of the system, and in collaboration with Government, appoint a bus coordinator to institute and manage the various programmes aimed at reforming the system and benefitting all bus operators.
To achieve the above will not be an easy one for NOBA and the bus operators who sincerely want an improvement in the system. There are benefits for the bus operators, but they cannot afford to want those benefits through the current modus operandi.
There is an urgent need for effective, no nonsense leadership at the top, with similar management committees at the route association levels.
Dissident bus operators and uncooperative passengers are to be expected but they too will have no choice but to follow the lead of the others, so they too can benefit. No one else is responsible for the smooth operations of the bus system, for the investors are the operators.
No one is responsible to manage their business but themselves, so the hard decisions must be made now before an incident; GOD Almighty forbid a serious accident forces the Government’s hand to introduce legislation which would manage the system for them.
Added to that is the unwelcome spectre of insurance companies increasing premiums because of the high risk associated with the bus system, which would burden the operators with an economic backpack too heavy to carry.
The time for talk and grandstanding is over; the time for passing the blame buck is over; the time for dodging the responsibility of owning up and dealing with the issues have long gone pass everyone.
The time is now for the bus operators to act in the interest of all bus operators and their families, and the nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Robertson S. Henry
Former executive member
National Council on Public Transportation, St. Lucia
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