Striking mini-buses block city streets
Protest motorcade planned for today By Nigel Williams
Stabroek News
February 1, 2002

Mini-buses blocked city streets yesterday in a further escalation of their strike and thousands of commuters continued to be severely inconvenienced in Georgetown and outlying areas, West Demerara and Berbice.

The operators continued to hold out that they could not work without music and that the proposed new regulations announced by Minister of Home Affairs, Ronald Gajraj to make the use of seat belts mandatory was not practical in Guyana.

Yesterday saw the streets filled with pedestrians and the East Coast and East Bank roads jammed with mini-buses many of which were not working. The drivers from West Bank plying Route 32 (Parika/Georgetown) assembled at the Parika Stelling at about 8 am and drove in motorcade style to the city.

The motorcade entered several of the city's streets blocking roads and hampering the smooth flow of traffic while police officers on duty stood unmoved. The operators were seen climbing on the top of their buses and some sat on the roofs blasting music as they patrolled city streets.

Operators of Route 45 (Main/Lamaha/Alberttown) joined the strike yesterday and were seen carrying large numbers of protestors in their buses while they drove along Avenue of the Republic and the Brickdam area hurling taunts at young police officers and commuters standing nearby. Many city buses were parked at the Square of the Revolution for most of the day.

The strike process? Mini-bus operators, mainly from Georgetown, seen yesterday in a discussion with former president of the Guyana Trades Union Congress, Norris Witter (left of centre) at the Square of the Revolution. (Ken Moore photo)

In Berbice the protest also continued. Operators plying Route 63 (Crabwood Creek/New Amsterdam) assembled at Number 35 Village at around 9 am with placards in hands. Some of them waved their cards bearing provocative slogans in the faces of police officers while others held commuters hostage and punctured tyres of buses that were working.

On West Coast Berbice, operators plying Route 50 (Georgetown/Rosignol) converged in front of the Fort Wellington Magistrate's Court from as early as 8 am and remained there until late in the afternoon.

According to reports, the protesting men stood in front of the courtyard and because of their continuous presence and noise the magistrate was forced to adjourn court earlier than usual.

After court was adjourned some of the men blasted music from their mini-bus sets, others drank beers, while others chased passengers from working buses.

Along the East Coast the situation was less frenetic. Though a few drivers and conductors were seen protesting many of the operators plying Route 44 (Georgetown/Mahaica) had returned to work and were seen soliciting passengers. Schoolchildren, teachers and other workers who had to walk to their homes on Wednesday had mini-buses to carry them yesterday.

According to one man, many of the operators were not owners of the mini-buses they were driving and as such they were made to secure a specific target earning per day. The man said the owners of the buses sometimes acquire the mini-buses through hire purchase and had to ensure that their creditor was paid at the end of the month. "These men can't continue this thing, Is not they bus and the owner gat to pay the people, so they gat to work," the man asserted.

Meanwhile, the Justice for All Party (JFAP) has organised a protest through the city today. The protest would allow mini-bus operators to demonstrate against police harassment allegedly perpetrated against them, the party noted in a press release. According to JFAP, all mini-bus operators are asked to assemble with their vehicles outside CNS Channel Six on Robb Street, which would be the starting point. The motorcade would then drive through the streets of Georgetown and culminate at the Square of the Revolution after which Leader of the JFAP, CN Sharma, would address the gathering.

On the other hand the Consumers Movement of Guyana condemned the action of some of the operators for holding commuters to ransom. In a release, the movement said it recognised that the men were protesting and opposing existing laws designed to protect citizens who use public transportation. It called on both the police and Ministry of Home Affairs to stand firm and not allow indiscipline and anarchy to prevail.

While the operators in Georgetown were protesting with little or no supervision, those plying Route 42 (Georgetown/Timehri) were kept on a tight rein by police. Some of the operators were detained at the Grove Police Station and later released on $5,000 station bail. One of them told this newspaper that he was detained at about 6 am yesterday. He said that his mini-bus only had one panel speaker and there wasn't any boom box, yet the police arrested him.

He claimed that his other colleagues were also penalised and summoned to attend court today. According to James, they were at the station from morning until afternoon and it was only at 4 pm that they were placed on bail. One of them claimed that at the station one of the officers wrote a list of the things he had to remove from his vehicle.

The man noted that according to the law they were allowed to play music, but the police were still arresting them when they were found with tape decks and panel speakers. He insisted that the road service licence related only to the use of boom boxes and many of the buses, which were detained were not carrying such.

Across on the West Bank hundreds of commuters were walking to their destinations, several of them schoolchildren and some ailing seniors.

One old woman walking with a stick told this newspaper that she went to the community centre in her area to uplift her pension book yesterday morning. According to her, at the time of her departure from home many of the buses were in operation but after she had completed her business she found it very difficult to secure transportation. The woman who resides at Best Village said that she waited for as long as two hours and she was likely to spend another two when this newspaper stopped and observed the situation.

Some of the commuters were heard saying that the drivers and conductors were very reckless and the government's stand was good. "These guys are killing too many people on the roads and if they continue, just now we wouldn't be able to walk in peace," a woman said.

She noted that one of her daughters, now deceased, was a victim of careless driving and she could understand why the government was so keen on preserving lives. "Somebody has to take the initiative and since the government is there to protect the people it made a fine move."

Up to late yesterday afternoon there were still many commuters at the various mini-bus parks. Some of the operators apparently worked in the morning but went on strike at noon. Other operators are expected to join the protest today including those plying routes 43 (Georgetown/Linden) and 31 (Georgetown/Wales). (Additional reporting by Daniel DaCosta)