Some of the vans at the decommissioned E.T. Joshua Airport, in Arnos Vale, after withdrawing their service on Monday. (iWN photo)

Leader of the opposition Godwin Friday is not surprised that some omnibus operators in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have withdrawn their services over the COVID-19 regulations.

“This is predictable. It is something that you could predict happening because the government, basically, took the step to reduce the number of passengers that the omnibuses can carry to 50% of their capacity,” Friday said on New Times on NICE Radio on Monday.

On Monday, a significant number of omnibuses withdrew their services, complaining that it is not profitable under the new rule, which is expected to last for one month.

Friday noted that the government made the decision for health reasons, amidst community spread of COVID-19 in the country.

“But we have always said that even while this is necessary as a public health matter that you can’t just simply say to the van drivers, ‘Now you must bear the cost by yourself’,” the opposition leader said.

He said he had raised the matter in the budget debate earlier this month, saying the government had a long recitation about what it did last year but nothing about their plans for this year.

The opposition leader said he expects the government will review its position as the omnibus drivers have taken to peaceful articulation of their problem and the difficulty they are in. 

Friday said that the government could do a host of things, including making parts duty-free for a time so that omnibuses can overcome the hardship or give a subsidy to the van operators so that they can at least maintain their operations.

The opposition leader said that the omnibus operators’ demand for a subsidy is reasonable.

“Nobody is trying to make a killing. I hear the van drivers, I heard their comments and pleas and so forth. They sound to me to be eminently reasonable,” the opposition leader said.

“Nobody is trying to exploit the situation. All they are saying is, ‘Listen, we have our requirements as well.’

“Some of them, they have to meet the bank for paying their mortgages on their vans. Some of them, this is their living; they have families to support as well. 

“And so, it is not going to benefit anybody for the government to be hard-nosed about this. They have to come to the table and provide some assistance. The van drivers, in particular, right now are being asked to bear the brunt of the COVID-19 response with no assistance, it seems to me, from the government.”

Leader of the Opposition, Godwin Friday. (iWN file photo)

On Monday, a number of omnibus operators told iWitness News that they are willing to withdraw their service until the government provides some assistance.

Friday said that he had raised the issue of assistance to van drivers during the Budget Debate earlier this month, on radio and in a press statement issued by his New Democratic Party  “calling for what is obvious”.

“If you are going to reduce the number of passengers to 50% of capacity, I have spoken to van drivers and they say that you can’t run profitably on that,” he said, adding that one driver said he rushes to make extra trips in the morning and evening to try to make up for the lost revenue.

“But, if you are losing on one trip, you will lose on three trips. It just means that you are compounding your loss and you will realise that you have no money in your hand at the end of the day but when you have to buy tyres and replace shocks and oil and gas and so on that you have nothing left,” Friday said.

“It is understandable that they have demanded of the government that they provide some assistance…”

The opposition leader said that omnibuses provide an essential service.

He further blamed the government for the current COVID-19 situation in the country, in which six persons have died.

Since March 2020, SVG has recorded 1,457 cases of COVID-19 including 1,321 persons who contracted it locally.

Of those who contracted the virus, 612 have since recovered and 839 cases remain active.

“We didn’t bring COVID here but we had the ability to control its effect here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines better than we have done and the government has, basically, dropped the ball on this and the thing has, basically, gotten widely spread out in our community and now we have community spread and they are fighting all kind of definitions and labels rather than dealing with the problem,” Friday said.

He said the government must ensure that essential services are provided and assist persons who are in dire need.

“The public is served by the omnibuses. The omnibuses operators say they can’t operate with carrying just 50% of the passengers.

“… it is not just that you are not earning. It is that every time you operate, if you are losing, then it makes sense for them to simply park up the van and say, ‘I can’t do it anymore. I have been doing it for a week and hoping that the government would have chipped in and helped out. But if they are not doing it, I can’t do it anymore.’

“So it is necessary that the government provide some assurance,” Friday said.

Friday said that the president of the Vincentian Transportation Association (VINTAS) had sent a letter to the minister of transport, which was copied to him.

The letter outlines several options that VINTAS had brought to the government’s attention.

He said he does not know if the government has responded, as he was not copied on any response.

“But it seems to me that the requests there are very reasonable and certainly negotiable and the government ought to come in good faith to sort of say, ‘Let’s consider the difficulties you are having and see what we can do to assist while the restrictions are in place’

“… But you can’t simply say you have to do it at this level … but at the same time, notwithstanding all the difficulties that van operators have to begin with and taxi drivers and so forth because the fares are controlled and they have always complained that they run very, very thin margins to get parts and so forth and asking for relief.”

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8 Comments

  1. No, Dr. Friday. The van drivers are extremely unreasonable. Let us not make political mileage out of a simple issue. Give them some assistance until things are back to normal. However, duty free importation of vehicles, stopping anywhere to pick up passengers, waiver of traffic fines, lower gas prices etc. Come on, doc. You know the van drivers will only make a bad situation worse. Give them only reasonable concessions.

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  2. Nonsense! The amount of persons traveling is the same as before. And, everyone is getting to their destinations. Therefore, the amount of money being earned on aggregate has not decreased. It’s just more distributed now.

    It’s the vans that used to pack people like sardines that have lost revenue – revenue they were not supposed to have if they followed the law in the first place and not over pack their buses. These operators deserve no bail out.

    When the pubic or government wants them to turn down their music, drive responsibly and not over pack, they complain that they’re a private business. Now they get treated like a private business, they want state money. NO! JUST NO! Let them eat the costs!

    It’s a good time for the government to finally regulate pubic transportation to reduce the noise and vulgarity in their music, and reduce to 3 passengers per row. We need strict penalties for buses caught racing- a stiff fine to both the driver and owner and suspension of licenses. And tickets for improper use of bus stops. Let them use the bus stops properly and stop blocking up the road, trying to prevent other buses from passing them. They are responsible for creating a lot of traffic problems and the costs from those problems simply get transferred to the traveling public. Not good enough.

    Also, this is what to expect from Friday who hasn’t properly taken a bus in probably the last 20 years.

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  3. Kittana Albert says:

    Some of them needs to withdrew for real especially from G.town cause they do not take short drops passengers if even u r going from Kingstown to Ratho mill they will not take u if even they has room
    And to tell the truth some drivers still packs the vans like sardines and some people still no mask they will take off mass eat and drink in the vans that is not sanitary at this time at all and some will put on their mask when nearing the police stations we need to follow the rules .

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  4. Nathan 'Jolly' Green says:

    If the government are unwilling or unable to assist then the driver must be allowed to charge double fare prices during the restrictions.

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  5. Dr. Friday did not mention the annual budgetary provisions that are made for foreign international airlines to cover the cost of seats that cannot be filled operating in SVG. These are also private entities like the mini bus operators providing an essential service in the economy. The services of the local operators is of no less importance.The government also spend millions to maintain and bailout unprofitable statutory corporations. Remember the 100 million dollars that was borrowed from the CDC to bailout NCB which we are paying for today. The elections are over and there is no need to have the support of the van owners until 2025.By then they would have forgotten this time of hardship and injustice. Unfortunately SVG is not a learning society and is doomed to repeat the same mistakes by the five rows.

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  6. Obviously the restrictive measures governments are enacting are doing far more damage than the virus itself. I suppose it is all a part of the great reset. Not only China, but Belarus and now India are getting “herd immunity”. First the “establishment” says the lock downs are only for a month, then they say masks will stop the spread and save lives. Now they admit none of that has any truth and they are also telling us to get vaccinated but nevertheless the measures will continue. Every few months they will introduce a new “strain”, requiring a new vaccine. All this is just the beginning. Our government will have to go along with all these measures “to keep us safe” whether they want to or not. The sad part is that there are so many sheep-people that will go along with (and even force governments) to do anything the Global Establishment wants without turning on their brains! There are Vincentians demanding forced vaccinations (no matter how many die from the Western-sponsored vaccines) the borders get closed and we all get locked-down.

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