Mini-buses Editorial
Stabroek News
February 3, 2002

Any lingering sympathy which some citizens might have been harbouring for those who provide public transportation along the coastal roads, must have dissipated completely following the events of last week. By now they would have witnessed for themselves how striking mini-bus operators assaulted drivers who were not on strike, how they pulled some passengers out of buses still operating, how they chased other passengers, how they threatened to overturn buses if they were not emptied of occupants, how they slashed the tyres of working vehicles, how they denied through passage to taxis and non-strikers, how they threatened taxi drivers who were ferrying commuters, how they caused traffic chaos with their noisy, illegal motorcades and blockades, and how they taunted and abused the police and members of the public waiting by the roadside. And all of this, it must be noted, primarily on account of the police campaign to remove boom-boom boxes from their mini-buses.

Not satisfied with this display of hooliganism, they then held forth in front of any available microphone on the subject of their 'grievances.' These ranged from complaints against the traffic safety group, Mothers in Black, to demands that ministers of government remove tape-decks from their Prados. It was an unequivocal case, to use an apt Guyanese phrase, of 'wrong and strong.'

The substance of their arguments gleaned from interviews appears to be as follows.

1. The drivers cannot drive without music in the buses, especially on the long-haul routes, in case they fall asleep.

2. The public wants to hear amplified music, and if the sets are banned people - especially schoolchildren - will not use their vehicles.

3. The fines for having boom-boom boxes are too draconian.

4. The police are harassing the mini-bus drivers.

5. And on a different subject, the proposed new traffic regulations requiring the use of seatbelts in mini-buses are impractical.

The first thing that has to be said about all of this is that the operators have their facts wrong. As the police said in a press release last week, the law does not prohibit music in mini-buses, what it does do is prohibit instruments capable of producing amplified music. Furthermore, this is not a new regulation; it is incorporated into existing legislation, and all that is happening is that the law is now being enforced. The fact that the drivers and conductors insist on regarding police actions to enforce the law as harassment, says a lot about their willingness (or lack of it, rather) to comply with the rules of the road.

Their fulminations regarding the size of the fines also speaks volumes about their reluctance to comply with the laws of Guyana. If they intend to obey the law and remove boom-boom boxes from their vehicles, then the amount of the fine would be neither here nor there because they would never be required to pay it. The fact that they want the penalties reduced, however, means that they have absolutely no intention of adhering to the regulations.

The second general point that can be made is that the operators are working in the field of public transport, where the rules have to be stringent. The authorities are responsible for public safety and public health; the mini-bus operators simply do not have the luxury of deciding what is or is not appropriate in terms of safety.

Nor does it make any difference whether schoolchildren or others want to hear amplified music in the buses. Students are in any case minors, and cannot possibly be regarded as the ultimate authority on matters of safety, health or decency. And as for adult commuters, it is not the democratic right of a majority of passengers in any given bus to decide whether the boom-boom boxes should be switched on or not. There are no democratic rights in this instance. It has long been established that the noise from amplified sets damages hearing, while in addition, there appears to be a nexus between noisy music, speed and other forms of irresponsible driving. If all the sets are removed from all the buses, the formerly noisy buses would still get passengers, because the latter would have no transportation alternatives.

And as for those drivers who have claimed they need the noise in order to keep them awake when they drive - that in itself is an indictment of their commitment to safety.

The one case to be made out for the operators at present is the matter of seatbelts. Public transport elsewhere does not ususally carry seatbelts on the grounds of impracticality. However, the drivers of buses in developed countries are supposed to be careful, responsible individuals, who adhere punctiliously to the Highway Code, and more especially do not speed. If the local bus operators want to discuss the matter of seatbelts with the authorities, then shenanigans of the kind we have had recently is certainly not the way to do it. The issue should be negotiated rationally through the agency of their representative organizations. It might be added that they will also have to be willing to accept rigorous enforcement by the police of the law on speeding, etc.

The lawless display put on last week by the mini-bus workers represented the rearguard action of a group which has been undisciplined for so long, that it now believes it has some inalienable right to indiscipline. It is about time they were told that no one has an inalienable right to compromise the safety and health of commuters in particular, and road users in general.