Government must come down hard on minibus issue
Guyana Chronicle
February 5, 2002

In the past week or so, the minibus situation in Guyana has dominated the news in both major dailies, and thanks to these publications interested parties have been kept abreast of the ongoing situation in Guyana.

Apparently, some minibus operators have major problems with two main issues, but it seems that they felt that they should throw in police harassment as a third issue, and that would somehow spread some legitimacy on the former two.

In the past, the issue of police harassment and sundry related over-zealousness of the GPF has served to draw some groups vocally out into the open. Groups like the main opposition People's National Congress (PNC) have come out to protest, both marching and verbally in the media, against instances where they allege police harassment and heavy-handedness. Apparently not so this time.

Here we have a situation where (a) the government is trying to clean up the minibus status quo in Guyana, (b) some minibus operators decide they Don't like it and resort to protestation, (c) the police exercise a great deal of restraint in handling the matter, and (d) the PNC says nothing.

Two of the main measures that the government is trying to introduce are the removal of the so-called 'boom-boom' boxes in the backs of these minibuses, and also the requirement for vehicles to fit and make use of seatbelts for the safety of passengers.

The 'boom-boom' boxes have been severely criticized by many Guyanese citizens as being not only noise pollution, but also a distraction to some drivers who already have other problems keeping their vehicles both on the road, and within the parameters of traffic law. The drivers claim that they have to have these powerful speakers to keep them awake and also to attract passengers who like this music.

Well if this is not the biggest load of nonsense that I have ever heard, I
Don't know what is. If the drivers work such long hours that they need loud blaring music to keep them awake, then they should get off the road and get some sleep. What is next? "Uppers" or other drugs to keep them awake? As a matter of fact, there should be some regulation on how long they are allowed to be on the road. There are many studies that have been done to show the length of human endurance behind a wheel.

The new laws do not propose to remove all music systems from these buses -- just the ones that are excessively loud and obnoxious, i.e. the 'boom boxes'. Besides, it seems that the use of these 'boom boxes' encourages a certain mentality in the operators of these minibuses and a sense of bravado on the road. This in turn leads to more carelessness and a more cavalier attitude when it comes to the lives of those who they are contracted to protect while in their vehicles. Then there is the question of safety and the inability to hear what is happening with the other traffic on the road. Do any of these minibus drivers think that it is safe for the driver of any vehicle to wear headphones while driving? Same thing.

To the minibus drivers, consider this. Your music cannot please all of the people all of the time, and in fact at the very least it irritates some of the people some of the time. On the other hand silence never irritates anyone. People are not on your minibuses for music -- that is what dance halls and stereos in the home are for. If one is to look at public transportation anywhere in North America or Europe, there is either no music, or there is the radio. Where there is some sort of music or radio, it is piped at a low level that is just audible. That is the standard that must be met in Guyana's public transportation system. A different and more considerate baseline has to be drawn when it comes to satisfaction of John Q. Public.

Then there is the form of the protestation. In a democracy, everyone should have the right to free speech and public protestation. Overtly annoying, threatening and inconveniencing other citizens and their property in exercising this right is not legitimized by that right. So why do some of these so-called protesters have to resort to these tactics just to get their point across? The ignorance of this approach clouds the vision of the goal of the protest in the first place. Do they really believe that such actions would further their cause in the public's eyes - a public already inconvenienced by the lack of transportation? Obviously the quality of their leadership is suspect.

The police have exercised great restraint in this instance, because these people could have (and indeed should have) been dealt with firmly under the law. These people have proven to the rest of the citizenry that they are in fact incapable of being custodians of public safety, and actually have no business transporting animals, let alone people.

While these so-called protesters were exercising their right, yet another minibus got into a fatal accident on the Linden-Soesdyke Highway. Apparently a tire blew out causing the minibus driver to lose control and crash, with the vehicle rolling over and in the process, passengers and children were flung through the windows and killed. How often have we heard or read of this happening in Guyana? Yet still, the minibus owners claim that it would be an inconvenience for them to fit and enforce the use of seatbelts.

Oh, my heart bleeds for the plight of these operators. Those children that were made into missiles in the last Highway crash were even more inconvenienced. Their families were more inconvenienced. The other taxpayers are more inconvenienced because of the resources that have to be expended to deal with that particular situation.

I am sure that there are many decent minibus drivers out there who are willing to comply with the laws of the land, including the noise pollution and seatbelt laws, and who drive in a conscientious manner, mindful of the precious cargo that they carry. These are the people who should be allowed to continue to operate. The others should be removed.

I think that the government actually needs to go further. They need to legislate shorter intervals for mandatory testing of vehicles involved in public transport. It is insufficient to, say, do a fitness check on these vehicles on the same schedule as a normal passenger car, i.e. yearly, when these cars have far greater hours of operation. Frequency of inspection is best set by mileage travelled, or betters, hours of operation.

Then there is the issue of the tires. Why do minibus tires in Guyana suffer blow-outs causing the vehicle to do various acrobatics, and in the process "fling" their occupants out of the vehicle? It doesn't happen in North America or Europe, where the speeds on the freeways are consistently greater and for prolonged times.

Is the Guyana minibus tire problem due to (a) substandard tires and/or poor tire condition, (b) too infrequent inspections, (c) too much speed, (d) tire overloading, (e) improper tire selection, or (f) all of the above? The laws should be written or re-written to clamp down on tires, and to address public safety in general. Police must have more powers to seize not only the boom-boxes, but the entire vehicle when it becomes a menace to society -- both to passenger and to others using the roads.

These vehicles have to also drive slower. A minibus has a high centre of gravity to begin with. Loaded and overloaded with people, this CG rises, making the risk of overturning greater. Consequently, speeds must be lower

for safe travel. Maybe governors can be installed on the engines of minibuses, or at the very least the travel of the accelerator pedal could be limited. At the more frequent inspections, this would be inspected and if it was fiddled with the operator could lose their license.

Free enterprise in Guyana should not be allowed such free rein that simple commonsense is thrown out the window. If that is the case, then what is accomplished? Progress? If all democracy-enabled demonstrations degenerate into thuggery, intimidation and lawlessness, then what is accomplished? Growth as a society? In my option both are clear examples of retrogression, and if that is satisfactory to the government and the opposition, then they must contend with the consequences.

This brings me to the apparent lack of commentary by the PNC on this issue. Surely, the magnitude of the protest and its impact on the people should warrant some sort of comment from that party. Surely this is a rare instance where they could show some leadership by offering some sort of support (even critical) on this issue which is clearly pointed in the right direction.

Is this what can be expected of that party -- that they speak out only when the government or the police messes up, but when something is done right they don't bother to comment, even when the people could benefit from that party's viewpoint? What is the use of that approach? How would the people know what to expect should they be elected next time around, if they don't show how they think at all times?

Wayne Moses