Making mini-buses more user friendly

Stabroek News
August 6, 2001

Ever since the lumbering public transportation system collapsed and disappeared into oblivion in the 1980s, the mini-bus man has moved with entrepreneurial zest to fill the breach and to ensure that Guyanese have a means of reliable, affordable transportation. This must not be forgotten. Guyanese owe an eternal debt of gratitude to the mini-bus operators who with the little venture capital at their disposal equipped themselves with buses for a somewhat uncertain ride in the public transport system. Years later, mini-buses predominate and face no discernible opposition or threat save for public opprobrium over their manner of operation.

The old Guyana Transport Services Limited (GTSL) after years of mismanagement, poor maintenance of vehicles, inadequate allowance for recapitalising, high debts, too-large buses and being out of touch with the public quietly fell away to be replaced by a sea of mini-buses. Some of the reasons behind GTSL's failure should, however, give pause to our present complement of transportation entrepreneurs.

They have been painted as the classic `road hogs'; maniacs in metals; dangerous weapons hurtling at deadly speeds and harmful to every road user because of their callous, don't care attitude on the road. Each day, commuters can regale each other in shocking detail of hair-raising dramas with one mini-bus or another on speedways that the country is now veined with. Many deaths on our roads have been caused by their outrageous motoring. It is an open and shut case. A large segment, if not the majority of mini-buses, are guilty of using the roads in a dangerous manner.

Quite naturally, questions have been raised about the driving skills of mini-bus drivers and what should be the minimum conditions met for them to be licensed.

Mini-buses operators are also under the cosh over the relentless assault on the eardrums of commuters through `boom-boom' boxes and their reticence at amending their ways.

The roadworthiness of these vehicles and the imponderable dangers posed on each trip through the use of threadbare used tyres is also another significant problem.

Appended to this are the sociological phenomena bred by the mini-bus culture, the touts, the stopping-wherever-you-like syndrome and the sprawling, inconvenient parks that have burgeoned over the years.

This is not to say that mini-buses are the only sinners on the road and other users are as pure as the driven snow. This is far from the case but as public transportation operators there is a greater need to ensure that mini-bus operators comply with certain standards of service.

Given the significant role being played by these private mini-bus operators, there is a desperate need for a regulatory body that will impose standards and cajole operators to meet these. Ideally, a public transportation authority is needed to oversee all forms of public transport in the country ranging from the ferry service to mini-buses. In the absence of this, there must be some intermediate body to absorb the serious problems occasioned by the mini-bus industry and to seek to provide solutions. The setting up of a regulatory body has been proposed by many in the past and the time is long overdue for it.

There should be a tri-partite mechanism: government, the operators and commuters/consumer groups in place to handle this very serious area. While the sector flourished in an unplanned manner that is no excuse to keep it in an entropic state. We believe that the government should seriously consider this problem and seek to convene a forum of mini-bus operators and commuters/consumer groups to work out exactly how public transportation can be improved and what minimum standards should be met.

A code of conduct would have to be devised for owners, drivers and conductors. Issues like the minimum training of drivers, roadworthiness requirements, fares, the basic level of service that should be provided, curbing excessive speed and the noise nuisance, the rights of commuters on the bus and the lodging of complaints would be eminent agenda topics.

The interface between the police force and the mini-bus operators is also a critical area considering the grouses that each group has with the other.

We need the mini-buses and they are here to stay. However, regulation of the service is required to save lives and to reduce the multitude of friction points between the operators and commuters.