Ferry crossing remains a major worry for Berbicians By Daniel Da Costa
Stabroek News
October 13, 2003

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Harripersaud Beharry, a Corentyne businessman left his home at No. 75 Village at 1:30 am one day just over two weeks ago for an 8 am appointment in Georgetown.

The journey entailed driving about 40 miles to New Amsterdam, crossing the ferry to Rosignol and then driving another 69 miles to the city. Unfortunately he arrived in Georgetown some two hours late and is still counting his losses.

His woes began at the New Amsterdam Stelling. He was unable to cross with the first ferry which is scheduled for 3:45 am and just made the 5 am pontoon. When it arrived on the other side of the Berbice River, the MB Baramani encountered mechanical difficulties with its door which delayed mooring for some 45 minutes. The rest is now history. Beharry’s unpleasant experience is one that the average traveller who utilises the ferry encounters on a regular basis.

Over the years, commuters, including scores of schoolchildren crossing the river, have been forced to cope with daily delays on both sides of the river. These delays have been due mainly to inefficiencies, regular engine problems aboard the vessels and a build-up of traffic at peak hours at the New Amsterdam and Rosignol stellings.

The crossing is being serviced by two vessels, the MB Baramani and the MV Makouria. The MV Torani which has been in dry dock for some two months is expected to return to service at the end of this month and will replace the MB Baramani.

Several weeks ago the pontoon’s engine collapsed. Since then the motor barge has been propelled by a tug, with a number of spin-off problems.

The pontoon can only transport a certain number of light vehicles but no trucks. The turn-around time of both vessels is still a major contributor to the undue delays commuters have to endure on both sides of the river. There is still no answer from T&HD officials in the area as to why the first ferry in the morning invariably leaves New Amsterdam late, derailing the entire day’s schedule.

Regional Chairman Kumkarran Ramdass recently expressed his concern over the operations of the two stellings saying he will raise the matter with the Minister responsible.

The undue delays, rampant corruption, mechanical difficulties, the large number of priority pass holders and other irritants have served only to agitate regular commuters and continue to fuel the tempers of drivers who are forced to “toe the line” for several hours awaiting a crossing.

A major area of worry is the large number of vehicle owners who turn up every day, particularly early in the morning at New Amsterdam and late in the afternoon at Rosignol claiming to be in possession of priority passes to cross the ferry. As a result vehicle owners without such passes are displaced by those with passes even though they might have been waiting for hours to cross the river.

Apart from senior government officials including Ministers, Members of Parliament, senior Police Officers, Magistrates, Judges and ambulances, a certain handful of vehicles are granted “discretionary passes” according to media consultant to the Ministry of Public Works and Communication, Ajay Baksh. The ministry, he said, had however recently ceased issuing passes.

According to Baksh, holders of passes should be at the stelling thirty minutes before the scheduled departure of the ferry and only six vehicles with priority passes should be allowed on any one crossing. He acknowledged that malpractices continue to plague the operations of the service. This, however, he attributed to both commuters and employees at the two stellings. The Regional Chairman has also voiced his reservations over the number of persons who have been issued with priority passes and the fact that no one knows who are holders of passes.

Apart from the issuance of passes based on some criterion or the other, the ministry also sells passes to those who can afford to purchase them. It is this category that has caused the most worry, confusion and apprehension among average commuters.

“Several vehicles turn up every morning particularly at around the 6:30 am ferry and are allowed to cross without joining the long lines because they and T&HD employees claim they are in possession of passes,” one angry hire car driver who travels everyday to Georgetown told this newspaper. “This obviously creates the opening for corruption since the public is unable to verify whether a vehicle has a priority pass or not.”

A number of commuters who spoke with this newspaper are calling on the ministry to stop the sale of passes and to revert to the old system of granting priority only to specific officials whose vehicles would be clearly marked. According to Baksh one officer was removed from New Amsterdam recently following an investigation.

Over the years, there have been several verbal and physical confrontations at both stellings over crossings and recently a fight broke out at Rosignol between a legal officer and a T&HD employee at the stelling following a verbal confrontation over the officer’s travelling on the ferry with his car.

Several persons have expressed fears that the volatile nature of the situation at both stellings could erupt into violence.

A management committee was established sometime ago to look at ways and means of improving the service but very little has been heard of it within recent times. The river crossing is the only artery that connects Guyana’s eastern coastline to the rest of the country and thousands utilise it on a daily basis.

Apart from thousands of passengers, hundreds of vehicles and tonnes of consumer items, agricultural produce and goods are transported by the ferries on a daily basis serving Guyanese on both sides of the Berbice River and further afield.