Over a dozen bus drivers of the Route 56 Minibus Association today, January 8, 2016, met with Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson and Minister within the Ministry, Annette Ferguson, to voice their concerns over the impact of the Berbice River water taxi service on their livelihoods.
During the meeting, President of the Association (Ag), Dennis Chesney, indicated that the bus drivers were “under serious pressure” since the introduction of the Berbice River water taxis.
According to Chesney, the association is a very structured one with seven groups of established drivers who work according to a schedule. In total, there are approximately 50 buses in the association. He explained that before the introduction of the water taxis, the schedule had seen the operation of about four groups of drivers each day.
However, he said, this schedule was changed when the water taxis came on stream. Now, the daily groups have been reduced due to reduced bus users, Chesney said.
“There are days when, if the four lines come out, those on the last line would not have work,” another driver said. “Three days of work is not enough…right now we don’t know where we’re headed.”
The drivers stated that the situation has greatly impacted their lives and those of their families, particularly during the Christmas season.
“Almost all of my earnings go to paying insurance and other fees,” an emotional Chesney said.
While the drivers expressed pleasure with the recent news that the Government of Guyana provided a $31M commuter subsidy to allow the reduction of tolls from $2,200 to $1,900, they believed that more must be done for them.
The Association has presented a few proposals for the Government’s consideration. Among the proposals were reduced hours of operation for the water taxis and the removal of the service on weekends. In regards to the reduction of hours, the association suggested a new schedule of 6:00am to 9:00am followed by 3:00pm to 5:00pm. These hours, the association said, would cater for schoolchildren and workers who travel during weekdays.
These proposals were noted by the Public Infrastructure Ministers. However, Minister Patterson emphasised that “decisions must not be made in a vacuum”. He noted the benefits of the service, including improved school attendance and improved business in New Amsterdam, and said that these benefits have gone a long way in bettering the lives of the public.
Minister Patterson further said that while he understood the bus drivers’ concerns, it would not be fair to serve only one section of the populace while neglecting another.
Both Ministers said they were committed to giving serious consideration to the proposals and indicated that they would confer with technical personnel to determine the feasibility of the proposals.