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Mini-buses are the main form of public transportation in Guyana.
Speaking on a motion in the National Assembly for the introduction of best practices for the safe, efficient and fair operation of public transportation, Minister Xavier said US$300,000 has been allocated to hire consultants "for the drafting and updating of a transport sector policy".
The funds, he said, are available under an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) funded project for Guyana that has a road safety component.
The policy is to address several issues regarding a transportation policy for Guyana, including the operation of mini-buses as the main means of commuter transportation, he said.
According to Xavier, who has responsibility for the transport sector, the policy will include zoning, legislation, weight limits, speed limits and will further make recommendations for the prioritising of new road construction with guidance from the National Development Strategy on transportation.
He said that all stakeholders would be involved in the development of the policy.
Opposition Guyana Action Party/Working People's Alliance (GAP/WPA) member, Ms. Sheila Holder moved the public transportation motion and carried it through to its eventual passage in the house.
The main parliamentary Opposition party, the People's National Congress Reform, was absent from yesterday's sitting as it continues its non-participation in the Parliamentary process.
In her motion, Holder stated that the working classes of Guyana have no other option but to rely on the public transportation service provided by mini-buses to get around for all purposes. She stated that while the service is efficient and cost-effective, it is viewed as "falling short of minimum standards of safety, courtesy and recognition of the rights of consumers".
Recognising that the Guyana Police Force has recently taken steps to bring mini-bus operators under the ambit of the law, loud music continues to pose a threat to hearing and speeding continues and is dominant among young drivers, she said.
With these points clarified and expanded upon, the National Assembly adopted Holder's motion, which stated that, "the National Assembly recognises the need for a policy to be crafted and appropriate regulation instituted in consultation with operators in the sector, consumers and other stakeholders to introduce best practices and systems for the safe, efficient and fair operation of the sector".
"The welfare of our people is paramount and government should spare no effort in adopting a policy that acknowledges that our people are the most valuable and important resources bequeathed to us", Holder said.
The other GAP/WPA member, Ms. Shirley Melville, also lamented problems with mini-buses and as her recommendation said signs should be put up at parks to direct, especially tourists, who may wish to use this mode of transportation.
Xavier said the Government fully recognises the concerns surrounding public transport on the roads, adding that there has been concerted action on a phased basis to remedy the situation "and to bring order on our roads".
He said that there has been wanton destruction of property and loss of lives because of the callous attitude of some mini-bus drivers
According to Xavier, it is anticipated that when the seat belt law is operationlised, road fatalities by mini-buses are expected to be down by some 20 per cent. The Act requiring the use of seat belts in mini-bus front seats has been assented to by the President and will be put into effect on a date to be announced by the Minister of Home Affairs.
In 1996 the Government singed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Transport Canada for the promotion of a technical cooperation programme in air, marine and surface transportation, Xavier stated. In phase one of the programme, a needs assessment for a strategic national transportation policy was conducted by the Department of Transport, Canada.
Six suggested strategic directions for the development of transportation systems in Guyana were identified. These were (1) building the foundation for development, (2) developing human resources, (3) improving safety, (4) preserving the transportation infrastructure, (5) developing the transportation infrastructure and (6) cooperating with regional partners.
Xavier said that all of these measures are being addressed on a phased basis within the limits of available funds. He added that his ministry and the Ministry of Home Affairs are working closely in relation to road safety.
The IDB-financed programme on road safety proposes studies aimed at reducing road accidents by installing devices on the roadway with the intention of reducing traffic hazards, setting up of crash barriers, road markings, traffic lights and more, Xavier stated.
He said the project includes procuring equipment for the Police to assist in the enforcement of traffic laws.
Specific objectives of the road safety programme, he said, include improving highway safety conditions of critical road sections. In addition, the programme specifies training of the Police in computerisation of accident data, and training them in using accident data-base, and accident reporting using revised highway accident reporting forms.
The programme also includes improvement of public transportation. This, Xavier said would entail improving the qualification and licensing procedures of drivers and conductors, vehicle safety and licensing procedures.
In addition, he said the programme involves the development and administration of national accident database management, and the development of a road safety education curriculum for introduction in the school system at primary, secondary and tertiary levels.
In the 1980's, the then government ceased to be involved in public transportation as a result of the closure of the Guyana Transport Services Limited.
Mini-buses were then imported for public transportation on duty free concession and were assigned to different routes throughout the country to satisfy the needs of the travelling public.
Opposition MP Mr. Ravi Dev, and Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce, Mr. Manzoor Nadir also voiced their support for the motion.