East Coast minibus operators strike over fares
Shred tyres of non-striking vehicles
Stabroek News
March 4, 2003

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Minibus drivers on the East Coast went on strike yesterday shredding the tyres of non-striking vehicles and stranding numerous commuters.

They were demanding increased fares after a recent increase in fuel prices. The strike is expected to continue today.

The increase in fuel prices was confirmed by an official at the Guyana Energy Agency who told this newspaper that the acquisition cost for fuel had gone up since February 14. A check of the gas stations showed sharp increases. At Guyoil, gasoline which was selling at $414 per gallon last week is now selling at $436, while diesel went from $359 to $377. At Texaco, gasoline is selling at $450 up from $420. Esso has raised its gasoline from $414 to $436, diesel from $359 to $377. Shell gasoline was $435 per gallon and now sells at $450 while diesel which was $371 is now $389.

Meanwhile, from as early as 6 am, minibus operators plying the 44 route, embarked on what they called three days of serious protesting for an increase in bus fares. Organisers had circulated flyers around the East Coast car park on Sunday informing operators about the strike. A spokesman for the group told this newspaper that since Thursday he had noticed an increase in gas prices. The man along with other colleagues said that since 1999 when a new fare structure had been sanctioned operators plying the 44 (Georgetown/ Mahaica) route had not enforced the new fares. He argued that with the recent increase in the fuel price, coupled with other expenses, it had become unprofitable to operate with the current fares.

The men are calling for an increase of $20 on the fares from Georgetown to Paradise making it $80, and George-town to Victoria should be $100. The operators denied they had been harassing commuters. One man declared that whenever someone entered his vehicle he would first inform them about the new fare, adding that he usually gave them the option of travelling with him or another vehicle.

For several hours commuters along the East Coast especially those living between Victoria and Buxton were left stranded. A few minibuses made one trip to Georgetown but on their way back to Victoria other operators who were already on strike stopped the vehicles, ejected passengers and in some cases shredded the vehicles’ tyres. Police arrested three men who were caught damaging the tyres of minibuses which were working. Stabroek News understands that the striking vehicles drove off from the Victoria bus park yesterday morning, before assembling near the Golden Grove Market. After spending some time there, with their vehicles parked at the shoulders of the road the men moved closer to the city, stopping at Good Hope where other operators joined them in the strike. At Good Hope several working minibuses were forced to join the strike and those which resisted had their tyres ripped apart and passengers ejected.

At Good Hope someone informed the Vigilance Police Station of what was happening and a jeep of heavily armed policemen arrived. The three who were arrested were forced into the police jeep and then taken to the station. The arrests did not daunt the spirit of the others. Instead, they proceeded to Buxton and continued to stop drivers. The policemen made no attempt to go near them. The demonstrators later parked in front of the Vigilance Police Station where they demanded the release of the three men. After a little while, the police released the men on station bail.

No Mahaica minibus was part of the strike, but some operators from Ann’s Grove, Better Hope, Annandale, Lusignan and Mon Repos joined in the strike.

Calvin Marks a media employee was stranded at Cove and John up to 11 am. “I am fed-up of the situation, these men are too unreasonable, an increase in bus fares cannot be justified at this time.” Marks observed that while the operators are calling for an increase many times conductors would hold back his change. He added that the government has done enough to drop the consumption tax to allow for a freeze in bus fares, “but these men have no conscience. When the price for gas drop they will still keep their fares the same way.” He said it was time the government provided transportation for persons employed by state agencies.

There was no real co-ordination of the strike and as such one man was seen with a long knife punching away at every minibus that slowed down in front of the striking minibuses.

Late yesterday afternoon a few of the striking operators returned to work, while others visited CNS Channel Six to air their grievances. Up to 6 pm scores of commuters were still trying to get home.

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