Persons board a minivan in Kingstown in June 2014. (Photo: Robertson Henry)

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not represent the opinions or editorial position of I-Witness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected]

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.

A man stick up his middle finger as this minivan is photographed with the conductor standing. (Photo: Robertson S. Henry)

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.

  1. The comfort and safety of all passengers is and must remain the number one priority.
  2. 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.
  3. Bus operators are partners in nation building, and therefore must at all times, reduce the demand on the public purse.
  4. Organise community/route bus associations as the foundation for a vibrant umbrella organization — NOBA.
  5. 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.
  6. Review the Constitution of NOBA, and introduce Codes of Discipline for bus operators, passengers, and bus stands, respectively.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Work in partnership with Parent Teacher Associations and other civil groups to improve the social development of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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

[email protected]

 

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

5 replies on “Bus operators must bite the bullet or…”

  1. The omni buses are designed by the manufacturers to support x# of pounds of weight. These buses are so overloaded they CANNOT be considered safe. The gross maximum capacity has been exceeded by at least 200-300 lbs. all the time. Then add in the poor condition of the vehicles, their tires and the over anxious and aggressiveness of the drivers and this system is a time bomb just waiting to explode. Can’t see riding them myself and have a hard time suggesting this as an option to visitors. No better on most islands but again, not recommended or safe. Time for SVG to be a leader rather than another following “goat”.

  2. asante khamau njiaa says:

    Hopefully they take these recommendations seriously and organise themselves accordingly. A proper public transport system is long overdue in st.Vincent and the grenadines

  3. I am in agreement with Mr. Henry’s opinion. The effective organisation and management of NOBA must come sooner rather than later. Failure to make the necessary changes internally must result in appropriate legislative actions by the Government.
    I am particularly interested in the establishment of standards of operations for bus owners, drivers and conductors:
    (1) No loud music; (2) No overloading of buses (conductors must be seated and not cocked over with their rear ends in the passengers’ faces; (3) drivers and conductors must be properly attired, groomed and clean; (the appearance of some often makes me wonder if they hold a fresh for the morning); (4) greater scrutiny by the traffic cops to ensure that the buses stop within the designated areas at the bus stops; many of them stop to badly thus hindering the traffic from behind flowing smoothly; (5) the establishment of a time schedule posted at the bus stops; schedules of times particularly the time of the last bus service from route to route must be posted at stops so that commuters and others can organise themselves according; (6) impose identifying marks/signs, etc on every public bus.

  4. Robertson S. Henry says:

    many persons have asked me why i wrote this piece, and what background i possessed. since i been here, i have observed and looked at what is happening here vis-a-vis the situation as it were many years ago in saint lucia.

    four of us began the process in 1988 – peter damiana, victor jnpierre, sylvester joseph, and myself. i continued the battle long after they left and although some of the reform measures were not implemented, i can safely say that passengers can travel on a bus in saint lucia with comfort and ways to get redress.

    however here the cart is being placed before the horse and a national body has been formed without any affiliates from which it would draw strength and support for many issues in a more cohesive manner.

  5. C. ben-David says:

    I guess that Mr. Henry, whom I assume is a St. Lucian, did not want to rub salt in our wounded transportation system by comparing it to the system in St. Lucia. I have no such reservation and comment on what I personally observed on some 32-35 different minibuses on a recent two-week family vacation to St. Lucia.

    1. St. Lucia has no bus terminals as such. Instead vans/minibuses line up in an orderly fashion one behind the other on the public road in several designated areas in downtown Castries.

    2. There are no street vendors anywhere in sight hindering access to passengers or harassing them to buy stuff once they have seated themselves.

    3. The vans are clean and music when played in neither loud nor filled with obscenities.

    4. Passengers only carry small loads which they place in their laps or under their legs. (I don’t know if there is a prohibition against stuffing the interior with all manner, size, shape of goods).

    5. The vans in line do not accept passengers until the van in front of them is full and begins to proceed down the road. There is no dog-eat-dog competition.

    6. Passengers queue up in an orderly fashion. There is no pushing and shoving.

    7. There is to harassment for potential passengers by aggressive conductors because there are no conductors, only drivers.

    8. There are no conductors because conductors are not needed because vans are not over-packed with people and produce so there is no necessity to constantly load and reshuffle passengers and goods.

    8. In fact — believe it or not — there are only three (3) — passengers allowed in each row.

    9. On long trips, it is strictly pay-as-you-enter (which avoids the arguments or fights at the end of the line that we sometimes witness here).

    10. Passengers are nearly always picked up only at designated bus stops all of which allow the driver to pull off the traffic lane onto the shoulder or other paved area.

    11. Passengers are usually dropped off only at designed bus stops. They can exit elsewhere only if this does not interfere with other road traffic.

    12. Vans actually stop to allow pedestrians, especially those who appear to be visitors or tourists, to cross the road.

    13. Drivers are always courteous and professional.

    I have observed many of these features of public transportation in Barbados and Grenada.

    Will we ever get anything like this in SVG? If you are skeptical, I don’t blame you.

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