Hundreds stranded in Route-32 minibus strike
--- operators against seat reduction order
by Chamanlall Naipaul
Guyana Chronicle
January 21, 2004

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HUNDREDS of commuters and school children were left stranded on the West Demerara roadway yesterday when agitated minibus operators/drivers grounded their buses to a halt in protest against what they described as the "unreasonable decision" by the Traffic Department to reduce the seating capacity of their buses from fifteen seats to twelve.

This is to be done by removal of the back seat. The operators said failing to comply with the order has resulted in them not being issued with Certificates of Fitness for their vehicles.

According to the operators, the reduction in the number of seats will result in a decrease in income by $1,000 per trip or over $5,000 per day, which is what they use to refill their tanks.

The operators told this newspaper that the reduction of the seats would bring greater financial hardships on them in view of increases in the price of gasoline, spares and insurance. In addition, the operators are claiming that a reduction from 15 to 12 seats would remove the need for conductors, thus creating further unemployment.

The operators are insisting that they will continue the strike until their demands to retain 15 seats are met.

Asked if they are being represented by the Mini-Bus Association, they replied in the negative, stating that their action was spontaneous but that the leader of the Rise Organize And Rebuild (ROAR) party, Ravi Dev, was representing their cause. Efforts to get a comment from Dev were unsuccessful.

Traffic Chief Michael Harlequin told the Chronicle that since last year mini-bus operators were cautioned and sensitized to the regulations on seating capacity.

Supt. Harlequin said seating capacity in vehicles is governed by Chapter 51:02-regulation 150B of the Motor Vehicles Act, which states that there should be a minimum of 19 inches (47.5 centimeters) between each seat, and each seat should have a width of 16 inches (40 centimeters).

The Traffic Chief further stated that Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj was on television explaining and quoting the law as it relates to seating capacity and dealt with the matter in a comprehensive way.

He also disclosed that commuters have made regular complaints about the discomfort they suffer as a result putting in extra seats in buses.

Harlequin is therefore insisting that it is not that the operators are unaware of the law, but that many are "too greedy."

He pointed out that the countries from which the buses originate may have permitted 15 seats but Guyana's regulations do not permit this. He said dealers in vehicles do not by law have the right to determine the seating capacity of vehicles. That right is entrusted with the Traffic Department in accordance with the Motor Vehicles Act.

Asked what could be done to resolve the matter Harlequin emphasized that the operators have to comply with the law. He said there has been "too much bending backwards" as regards the laws of Guyana.