The facts that the writer of a letter to the government asked for a waiver of traffic tickets for minibus operators shows the mindset of the letter writer, says Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves.
On Monday, some omnibus operators withdrew their service in response to a law mandating that they carry half the number of passengers they are licenced to transport.
The law, which came into effect this month, and will last for one month, was not accompanied by a subsidy, as was the case last year, when the government recommended that ridership be reduced by one-third.
In a letter to the government, part of which was circulated on social media, the Vincentian Transportation Association (VINTAS) asked for a “waiver of all traffic tickets for ‘picking up or dropping of (sic) passengers at points other than at a bus stop’”.
“Then to tell you the mind-set of those who drew up this letter and sent it, ‘waiver of all traffic tickets for picking up and dropping off passengers at points other than at bus stops’,” Gonsalves said on NBC Radio one day after meeting with VINTAS.
“Now, the laws are there regulating the dropping off and picking up of passengers,” the prime minister said.
“People, other drivers on the road, complain about some minibuses, a number of them drop off and pick up people willy-nilly, wherever they feel like,” Gonsalves said.
“They want us to waive the ticket. Well, I want to find out how I am going to waive the ticket.”
The prime minister said that under the law, a ticket is issued to a driver in breach of certain road traffic offences.
“… if you don’t pay the ticket in a certain time, that ticket becomes a summons for you to attend the court, because it assumes that if you don’t pay it, you’re contesting, so the court would then make the order. If you are paying it, you just go in and pay it.
“Where a legal process has commenced, how can the executive interfere? I want to know by what instrument I can do that. I’m thinking as a lawyer… And they tell us that they want to see proper regulation.
“They said the transport system should be properly regulated, a modern regulated system, but some of the elementary regulations which are there, you want to cast them aside? You can’t go to the Mercy Committee with this because this is not a sentence. How could you begin to conceive? And I am told that the opposition said that all these are reasonable things. I don’t know.”
Gonsalves said that at Tuesday’s meeting, he made “a pre-emptive strike” by noting that in the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure, vehicle licences, drivers’ licences, inspection and examination of vehicle fees, registration of vehicles, together, generate EC$22.7 million for the year.
He said he told VINTAS the eight kilometres of road from Kingstown to Layou that his government rehabilitated cost EC$23 million.
“That one piece of road and I had to borrow that money from the Caribbean Development Bank at three-point-something per cent interest. Had to pay it back to provide a good quality road not only for minibus operators but for others and we know the road, several of them, particularly the byroads, village roads.
“I’m not talking yet farm roads, many of them are not in a good condition. So what you want me fix them with? Bottle stopper? I know that there is a difficulty; I know there is a challenge. I am going to continue to help with the sanitisation, and I am going to give a support like we gave last year, not less than what we gave last year, which was $500 for two months. Well, they themselves talk about $500 but they want it permanent, in and out of COVID…” the prime minister said.