Planned mini-bus strike fizzles
Meeting still being sought with Gajraj
Stabroek News
February 9, 2002

The strike action which was organised by mini-bus operators across the country yesterday failed to garner much support as most of the operators were seen working and commuters everywhere had adequate transportation to take them to and from their homes and places of business.

On Thursday mini-bus owners/operators held a press conference at the Guyana Public Service Union office and the protest action was planned. But yesterday only 15 mini-buses turned up for the motorcade and the operators returned to work minus three mini-buses plying Route 42 (Georgetown/Timehri) and one which operates in Route 41 (Lodge, South, North, East and West Ruimveldt). The strike was supposed to be a continuation of one that was launched last week to protest the police crackdown on amplified music, alleged harassment of drivers by the police and the planned enforcement of a law requiring seatbelts in public transport. The strike last week created transportation havoc with buses from most of the routes joining. Commuters were severely inconvenienced and there were many incidents where working buses were attacked and their passengers ejected.

Speaking with Stabroek News yesterday one of the operators said that he turned up as early as 7 am yesterday to join the strike. He said that he was joined by a few buses from Route 40 (Kitty/Campbellville), three from South, two from Route 44 (Georgetown/Mahaica) and a few others plying other routes. The man said that there was no support from those operators plying routes 50 (Georgetown/Rosignol) and 63 (Crabwood Creek/New Amsterdam). There was also no support from operators in Route 43 (Georgetown/Linden) and Route 45 (Main/Lamaha/Alberttown).

In Berbice, drivers and conductors who had initiated the strike action last week were seen busily soliciting passengers and the bus park, which was near empty for most of last week, was crowded with minibuses, touts and commuters.

In Georgetown, bus parks were cramped, while some of the operators physically competed with each other for passengers. The regular operators were back on the road and their presence dampened business prospects for the so-called 'Cork Balls' (older buses), whose operators had enjoyed good financial returns during the strike.

The return to work also had an effect on the taxi drivers who had upped their fares during the strike. Several commuters had complained that taxi drivers demanded exorbitant fares from them during the period forcing many of them who did not have the means, to join the long lines of struggling commuters and sometimes to walk to their homes. One commuter told this newspaper yesterday that she was very pleased that the operators had returned to work. She noted that even though they had a legitimate right to protest their service was vital in the country and if they were to continue in the same bullying and irresponsible manner like last week, the roadways would have become more dangerous for road users.

There were no reports of anyone being detained, nor were there any untoward incidents as the 15 buses, which were on strike, drove in a motorcade-like manner through a few streets of Georgetown before they dispersed to their separate locations. One of the strikers said that they were still prepared to take up their concerns with Home Affairs Minister, Ronald Gajraj.

He also disclosed that problems had hit plans for the setting up of a national mini-bus association. According to him there were two factions among the mini-bus drivers, one which was in support of the Guyana Labour Union organising the body and the other which wanted the association to be headed and run by mini-bus operators themselves.

Meanwhile, the Upper Corentyne Chamber of Commerce and Industry has condemned the acts of "lawlessness and the atrocious behaviour" demonstrated by some of the striking mini-bus operators during the strike last week.

The chamber in a release said that while it recognised the operators' right to protest it was also demanding that they respect the right of other mini-bus owners to ply their trade unmolested and unhindered. "We are gravely concerned about the treatment meted out to commuters on whom these mini-bus owners depend for a living."

The chamber said that it was fully in support of the removal of the boom boxes from public transportation and urged that the enforcement of the use of seatbelts be looked at thoroughly. The release noted that speeding was the main contributor to road deaths and that the police should be provided with the necessary radar equipment to curb the problem. The chamber urged that testing devices for alcohol content in the blood of drivers also be procured since drunken driving was also a serious cause of fatal accidents. It also observed that the many stray animals that usually roam the roadways posed a great danger to motorists.

The marking of the road with a white line in the centre, the putting up of signs, marking turns, pedestrians crossings, the clearing of bushes on the roadsides and the removal of derelict vehicles and other obstructions are also some of the measures the police force should put in place, the release urged.