`Boom Boom' fight back by Neil Marks, Stacey Davidson and Calvin Marshall
Guyana Chronicle
January 29, 2002

`If the police say take it out (the music boxes), you have to take it out. You have to obey the law' - driver Samuel Wilson

MINI-BUS drivers on the Georgetown-Rosignol and other routes yesterday hit back at the police crackdown on `boom boom' (big music boxes) on their vehicles by pulling their buses off the roads and trying to block those who wanted to continue ferrying passengers.

Schoolchildren, workers, farmers and others were stranded along the East Coast Demerara, West Coast Berbice, East Berbice and parts of the Corentyne as drivers protested the heavy fines imposed on those found with `boom boom' boxes.

Commuters in Georgetown were also affected and the East Coast and Rosignol parks in the city were almost empty of buses last night and hundreds had to find other means of getting home.

It was, however, business as usual at the Kitty/Campbellville, South/Lodge and other car parks in the city.

"No music, No work", one placard proclaimed as drivers protested at Foulis, West Berbice, where more than three dozen mini-buses lined both sides of the road in the biggest show of support for the strike.

It was not clear how long the strike will last but some drivers yesterday said they intended to stay off their routes for several days.

The police insisted that the campaign would be maintained but protesters at Foulis punctured the wheels of at least two mini-buses not taking part in the strike. A number of police officers were around but could not prevent the incidents.

One of the buses, BFF 9339, was coming from Rosignol when several of those on strike ran towards it, forcing the driver to step on his brakes.

It was not long after that the right side tyre at the back and the left side tyre at the front of the bus were made flat.

Among the passengers on that bus were two sick persons. Those who disembarked from the vehicle hitched a ride otherwise.

The driver of the bus, Mr. Samuel Wilson was furious and frustrated.

"If the police say take it out (the music boxes), you have to take it out. You have to obey the law," he told the Chronicle.

There were reports of similar incidents on the Corentyne but police said there were no major confrontations.

The Guyana Public Transportation Association, in a letter to Home Affairs Minister, Mr. Ronald Gajraj, said it was "in now way associated" with the strike. It claimed drivers who wanted to work were intimidated by the protestors.

Hundreds of commuters in East Berbice, including schoolchildren, were affected as mini-bus drivers and owners there joined the day of protest.

Scores of travellers milled around at mini-bus parks for their regular transportation while a few of the operatives tried catching an extra buck.

Bus drivers on the Crabwood Creek to New Amsterdam route staged a protest on the Corentyne Highway around noon yesterday.

However, members of the Canje, New Amsterdam/Georgetown Mini-Bus Association did not support the protest although only a few of them were on the Number 50 route run yesterday.

Representatives of the grouping told the Chronicle that they were not on duty because of a planned meeting with the Officer in charge of Traffic at the Police "B" Division Headquarters. The session was in preparation for a scheduled meeting with the Home Affairs Minister on February 8.

Some other operatives did not work as well because of court appearances.

A spokesman for the body reported that some of their defiant colleagues were threatened by some protestors with one bus owner complaining that some of the strikers had punctured his left rear wheel while en route to the city.

They said they may not operate today if the protest continues, in the interest of the safety of their vehicles and passengers. About 20 buses ply the Canje, New Amsterdam/Georgetown journey.

At one point, a police officer and ranks at the West Berbice protest site had to escort a bus not on strike through the protest line.

Parts of the road were earlier in the morning blocked by the protestors but police later cleared away debris and other materials to allow vehicles through.

Chief Traffic Officer, Superintendent Fred Wilson, said there will be no wavering of the traffic regulations. He said that once regulations are in place these will be enforced.

Several mini-bus drivers, especially those on the West Berbice route, have been fined up to $30,000 for failing to comply with Rule 18 of their road service licence, which stipulates that the holder of such a licence "shall not have affixed...any stereo set, juke box, wireless loud speaker, amplifier, gramophone... or similar instruments of music."

However, mini-bus operators at the Foulis protest site argued that their buses "come with" tape decks and the vehicles should not be stripped of these. Some claimed they did not "affix anything."

One mini-bus operator pointed to a speaker fitted to the side panel of his bus, and asked how he could be wrong by having it remain there since that is the way he bought the bus. The bus drivers also argued that the fine being imposed is too high, and said that when their buses don't have music, they "face the music" since they claim many passengers "like a lil music."

"The Government needs to address the real causes of accidents. Its seems like the Government is saying that mini-bus drivers are criminals and that we come out every morning on the road to drive and kill people," former President of the West Berbice Mini-Bus Association, Mr. Harry Persaud Motielall, said.

"The Government doesn't want accidents and neither do we," he added.

Mini-bus drivers argued that if the point is that music causes them to be distracted, no vehicle should be allowed to carry music boxes.

They also alleged that they are being harassed by police officers on traffic duty. Some said that when they ask the police about their rights, they are being charged with "misbehaviour."

"The police seem always to be right," one driver said.

Some mini-bus drivers claim that animals roam the roads day and night and are one of the major causes of accidents, but said the Government seems not to take this seriously.

However, the Chief Traffic Officer said that whenever the police can trace those who own the roaming animals, they are dealt with.

Regarding overloading, the mini-bus operators said they are not allowed to carry even school children `overload' and so school children should pay the full fare.

However, Wilson said that in cases where children are picked up, two can be counted as one, once they are under 10 years old and/or once the traffic officer on duty determines that they are comfortable.

The mini-bus operators are also opposed to the proposed seat belt regulations

About two weeks ago, Gajraj announced that the traffic regulations regarding the use of music would be enforced as a matter of priority to halt the carnage on the roads.

He said other regulations will soon come into force, including those for the use of seat belts and radar guns for the police to detect speeding.

Many passengers travelling to Berbice from Georgetown were stranded but hire car drivers did brisk business as some commuters had to pay $1,000 to travel to Rosignol and $2,000 to Corriverton.

A few travellers said they would wait until the drivers decide they will work, because they cannot afford to travel with the hire cars.