Omnibus operators in St. Vincent and the Grenadines will each receive a temporary subsidy of at least EC$500 a month in light of the law mandating that they halve their ridership for one month in light of the spike of COVID-19 cases.
This was agreed at a meeting between the government and representatives of minibus operators on Tuesday.
“I told them that we will give them a subsidy, a temporary subsidy at a number not less than what they got last year. That’s what I told them. I’m not a beast. I overs (understand) what’s happening and despite the difficult circumstances, we have to help,” Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said on Wednesday.
Speaking on NBC Radio, Gonsalves noted that for two months last year, the government gave $500 monthly to 18-minibuses and EC$600 for larger buses.
“These regulations that we put in place, they have a subset clause — one month,” he said of the regulations that came into effect this month. We will see what will happen by the end of the month,” Gonsalves said.
On Monday, some omnibus operators from both the leeward and windward sides of St. Vincent withdrew their service and drove into Kingstown to highlight the impact of the regulations on their operations.
“… notice I’m not getting involved in the tactics of some minibus men of driving all the way come town, 15, 20 of them, and don’t give anybody any ride along the way and you drive slow coming down, humbugging other people on the road who want to move,” the prime minister said.
“I leave those things for other people to talk about. I spoke to them yesterday about it, but I’m not – that’s not what I am exercised about….
“But we will provide support, whether it’s for a month, whether it is for two months, further for this year, we have to determine that,” Gonsalves said.
He said he had heard that some operators had said they wanted an answer before returning to service.
“I didn’t tell you to withdraw your service you know, and you can’t put a gun to my head, metaphorically, to tell me unless I answer you by a certain time you ain’t coming back on the road,” the prime minister said.
“I am sorry, I don’t function like that and the people who elect the government don’t expect me to function like that. I’ve a lot of friends who own minibuses, I’ve a family who own minibuses, constituents of mine own minibuses and I know that they are overwhelmingly good and decent people and some of these things, I’m sure they don’t agree with it. So if anybody believes they could put a metaphoric gun to me head…”
The prime minister appealed to minibus operators to return to service.
“I want to say to the brethren and sistren in the minibus, man listen, alyo just go on the road and do your thing nuh.”
He thanked those who continued to provide the service while their colleague pulled off the road on Monday.
“When times are good, the passengers are there for you, when you have a difficult time, try and squeeze and see how we can go nuh. It’s a small place. Leh we don’t ha’ all those unnecessary kinda bickering. We got too many serious problems not of our making,” the prime minister said.
“COVID came to us from outside. We have problems coming to us from outside. We going to add on top of them by having — what happen, we can’t rise above personal and sectional agendas? Nah, we goh do better than that. And that’s my plea.”