Mini-bus strike spreads
- non-strikers attacked
President Jagdeo urges end to confrontation By Stacey Davidson and Clifford Stanley
Guyana Chronicle
January 31, 2002

THE mini-bus strike which began Monday when drivers on the Georgetown/Rosignol route pulled their vehicles off the run, spread to other parts of the coast yesterday and hundreds of passengers were stranded at parks in the city and elsewhere.

President Bharrat Jagdeo met nine representatives of the protesting group at the Rosignol ferry stelling last night and urged them to avoid a confrontation.

He noted that there is a "public outcry" against the `boom boom' (big music) boxes on the vehicles and other aspects of the mini-bus operations, stressing that it is "a public safety issue" and he has a responsibility to all.

Police reported several attacks against non-striking mini-buses and a group of protesters in Georgetown yesterday afternoon attempted to overturn a bus with passengers but fled when police showed up.

Another group yesterday morning attempted to destroy a mini-bus at the South /Lodge car park in Georgetown because it was not on strike and was ferrying passengers.

The protesters also punctured tyres of some mini-buses operating the Kitty/Campbellville route when they returned to the bus park.

These drivers then took a decision to put off passengers away from the park and turn back, fearful of attacks by the angry crowd.

Police said 15 persons were charged yesterday in Georgetown for causing obstruction to the free flow of traffic, while one of two others arrested, was found with 'Bass' spray.

Police confirmed that the tyres of two mini-buses were punctured by irate strikers.

Police said that at about 12:45 hrs, the tyres of two private and two hire cars were ripped up when they were forced to stop where a log was placed across the Abary Bridge in Berbice.

It was reported to the police that persons jumped out of the bushes at the side of the bridge, punctured the tyres with knives or sharp instruments and disappeared into the bushes.

Two persons among a crowd of about 250 were arrested when they punctured tyres of two mini-buses on the Huntley Public Road, East Coast Demerara at about 13:30 hrs, Police said.

On the West Demerara, five persons were arrested for obstructing the police in the execution of their duties at Uitvlugt at about 13:30 hrs.

Police said they were part of a group of striking mini-bus operators.

"We appeal to the general public for support as the maintenance of law and order is everyone's concern", police said.

"Those mini-bus drivers and conductors who have what they perceive as grievances, are asked to proceed airing or venting those grievances in a lawful manner", Police headquarters advised.

In a statement, police also made it clear that the law has not, nor have the police banned the playing of music in mini-buses or hire cars.

However, it said that Condition 18 of the conditions of the Road Service Licence for these vehicles, especially mini-buses, states "the holder of this licence and the driver or conductor shall not have affixed or carry therein or thereon any stereo set, juke box, wireless loud speakers, amplifier, gramophone, TV set, video cassette recorder or similar instruments of music unless approved by the competent authority."

Police warned that all necessary precautions would be taken against persons who commit or are about to commit illegal acts.

Operators of about 36 mini-buses and a large crowd waited at the Rosignol stelling from about 17:00 hrs until President Jagdeo, on his way back to Georgetown from Suriname, arrived about two hours after on the ferry vessel.

He told the nine representatives he met on the stelling for about 30 minutes, he could not make on-the-spot decisions since the issues involved the work of the judiciary and he could not interfere with that.

He advised them to meet Home Affairs Minister, Mr. Ronald Gajraj on their grievances. The President said solutions have to take into account the interest of the travelling public and the mini-bus operators.

Striking mini-bus drivers yesterday continued to argue that they cannot operate without music in their vehicles because passengers, especially school children, will not travel in these buses. Some are of the view that those drivers particularly plying the longer routes would need to have some sort of music in their vehicles.

"It is not fair...(We need) pleasure (music) as well, when (operating) mini-buses," one driver declared.

A very distraught passenger waiting for transportation at the Lodge/South car park in the city, said he is not against the music in the buses, but has a problem with the level at which it is played.

He said mini-bus operators must take into consideration the comfort of passengers, claiming that when passengers request that the music level be lowered mini-bus operators become very abusive.

"(You have to obey) the request of your passengers", he reiterated.

The operators are also against the proposed law for seat belts in mini-buses as a safety precaution.

The majority of drivers and conductors feel this is a waste of time, especially for short drops around the city.

They complained bitterly that these vehicles are purchased only with the front seats, and it would be costly to now attach safety belts on every seat.

"We don't see it fitting to have seat belts (for drops) around the city. It is disgusting...It just can't work", a spokesman argued.

As passengers were left stranded at bus parks in Georgetown, hire car drivers took advantage of the situation and hiked fares to $500 per person for short drops.

One middle-aged woman who travelled from Berbice, said she came to the city to do business only to be left stranded.

Commuters from the West Coast Demerara who usually travel from Georgetown with buses across the Demerara Harbour Bridge had to cross the Demerara River to and from Vreed-en-Hoop with passenger speedboats.

Many who were in Georgetown on business yesterday found themselves stranded with no buses at the regular parks.

Operators plying the Georgetown/Timehri route had placards posted on mini-buses which read 'No Music, No Work' and '$30,000 is too much fine', among others.

Yesterday afternoon persons on the West Coast of Demerara had to walk home because a limited number of hire cars were in operation.

There were demonstrations by drivers on the Corentyne but it was business as usual for mini-buses on the Essequibo Coast.

The attempt to overturn the bus in the city was near the 1763 Monument Square where strikers had gathered for an address by President of the General Workers Union (GWU), Mr. Norris Witter who urged them to keep up the struggle.

He said the struggle will be peaceful and mini-bus operators from Linden and Berbice will be asked to join the strike.

Witter urged the gathering not to be afraid of the police and to be strong in their quest for justice.

He also suggested that they select one person from each zone to represent their cause.

The GWU President said efforts will be made to engage the services of a group of attorneys-at-law to defend the cause of the mini-bus operators.

The meeting ended abruptly when it began to rain and the mini-buses took off in several directions.

Meanwhile, the Consumers Movement of Guyana (CMOG) has condemned some mini-bus operators for "holding the commuters to ransom".

The CMOG said it recognises that these mini-bus operators are protesting and opposing existing laws designed to protect citizens who use public transportation.

The association called on the Police and the Minister of Home Affairs to stand firm and not allow indiscipline and anarchy to prevail.