This is part two of a two-part series where I examine the underlying realities behind the busmen strike for three days in October 2016. In part two I will deal with the issues stated during the third and final day of the strike and I will examine the change in tone and the more serious matters raised on that day.
Once again most of the issues in our discussion are not peculiar to busmen but affect the motoring public and in some instances the population-at-large. The busmen however were the ones with the strength and courage to bring these matters to the forefront while most of us stood idly by passively accepting the pain and pressure being placed on our backs by the authorities.
We were told that the conditions at the Cow Pen are better than those at the Bus Terminal from where the busmen operate. The busmen are forced to queue in the intolerable heat while they inch their way up to the front of the line. They do this day after day in the interest of attempting to co-operate with the authorities and to service their customers.
The toilet facilities were inadequate since the facility was constructed. This was consistently pointed out to management over the years with no positive steps being taken to improve the situation. The busmen have stated that not only is the number of toilets inadequate but their placement and construction style are also unsanitary.
We all sat idly by while this government placed debilitating additional taxes on our petrol making our operational costs among the highest in the region. Our people have been denied the benefits of worldwide falling petrol prices. The flimsy excuse provided stating that the alternative was to retrench public officers is sad.
Is the Government of Grenada seriously suggesting that increasing petrol and other taxes is the full extent of its plan to maintain the level of employment in the public service?
If this is the case, then it is in the interest of the government to allow vehicle parts sellers to import and sell sub-standard parts to motor vehicle users so that they can collect more taxes to pay public officers.
The original brake pads on my vehicle lasted five years. The replacement part that I bought here lasted five months. Busmen are being sold weak, dangerous and expensive replacement parts to carry passengers. Where are the arms of government set up to deal with their complaints? Is the government only concerned about collecting taxes and fees?
In the absence of proper government and the relevant systems being put in place our brothers in the Police Force are being pushed into roles for which they were not trained and should not be within their
purview. The placement of bus stops, no-parking signs, roundabouts and the general flow of traffic should be within the domain of specialist town and country planners and transport and human movement experts who would in turn advise the Police accordingly.
Our towns are filled with “no parking” signs and stipulations without the requisite “yes parking” being made available. Many spots in the city can be fitted with parking meters or made into designated parking zones during specified hours and supervised by parking attendants allowing users to park for a limited period upon payment of a small fee.
Derelict buildings should be demolished to make “green” parking spaces until the owners decide on the land use.
Is there a roundabout by the Sugar Mill in Grand Anse or simply some tires in the road? The same applies to the one by Father and Son. Is there a four-way stop at the Cliff in Calivigny or do you simply drive in and out at will? Should the bus stops be placed strategically in relation to where people would naturally congregate or should you place a bus stop and force people to walk several feet? Why are the markers of the road not using proper road marking paint?
The corridor from the Sugar Mill roundabout to the Cliff in Calivigny is the road to perdition. Again, the Police have tried their best by placing no parking sign along section of the road but it is becoming clear to all users that a dual carriageway is required along that route. The government distributed this land to the “vulnerable” during the last 30 years and allowed the recipients to build up to the edge of the existing road with no consideration for the future. What is now facing us is the prospect of having to repurchase this land from the “vulnerable” for the inevitable road expansion program.
Another complaint of the busmen was the fact that there are too many buses on the road. This is partly due to government policy where it is now easier to obtain financing for a new bus than several other more productive ventures. It is also due in part to the mistaken belief that busmen rake in tons of cash daily. Then there is the herd mentality where persons flock to the latest craze in the belief that this is the correct thing to do.
Examination of the bus operation over the long term will show that this is not the pot of gold and glory that by-standers believe. For a start the new entrants do not appreciate the dedication and hard work the “old-school” operators put in.
Another miscalculation is the level of expenses incurred in maintaining a good and reliable service. Probably the creatures who benefit the most in the current system are those who own several buses and demand a fixed weekly sum from the operators forcing the unfortunate driver and conductor to scramble to feed themselves from the remainder. In this scenario, the men are forced to hustle and “pound the road” to “eat ah food”. In all this the public ultimately pays the price.
Buses and trains in developed countries have dispensed with the need for a conductor more than 40 years ago. Those who call conducting on a bus a job need to reexamine their relationship with reality. These grown men need to be introduced to a skill and find some meaningful engagement when the day comes. This would immediately lower the operating cost of a bus, a saving that can be transferred to the passengers in part.
The solution to all these problems are simple. The systems already in place should be activated to protect the busmen and other consumers from exploitation. We have solved all these problems before. For example, school children should go to school on a school bus. This bus can be a government run service or a partnership with the private buses. The children should be picked up at the school gate and dropped off as close as possible to their destination. Transportation is a national issue and should be a public/private partnership.