Minibus operators park vehicles to protest new seating order By Jaime Hall
Guyana Chronicle
January 27, 2004

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NOW that the Police Traffic Department has moved to enforce the law, which would require minibuses for public transport to carry a seating capacity of 12 instead of 15, operators say this regulation could bring them undue hardship and also put thousands of conductors on the breadline.

The problem for these operators is that they will now have to carry four less passengers per trip, and this development would significantly impact on their daily earnings and operational costs.

East Coast Demerara minibus operators who withdrew their services yesterday to stage demonstration exercises outside several villages along the coast, claimed that the regulation could reduce their daily earnings by between $3,500 and $4,500.

Additionally, this requirement may force them to dispense with the services of conductors on the vehicles, since with reduced earnings they might be unable to employ conductors.

Yesterday the striking minibus operators, who numbered about 100, carried out demonstrations at Enmore, Enterprise, Mahaica, Golden Grove/Victoria and Annandale.

Their strike action left hundreds of commuters including schoolchildren stranded with few other means to reach their destinations in the capital. Just a few minibuses were observed plying the East Coast-Georgetown route.
Mr Roopnarine Bhim, a spokesperson for one of the groups of minibus operators, complained yesterday that the new regulation on seating capacity is “outdated”. He appealed to the Government to amend the law so that the minibuses could continue operating without moving to hike fares.

Bhim argued that if the law is enforced, the minibus operators would have to comply, but this will force the operators to impose a 30 per cent fare increase in order to compensate for the loss of earning as a result of the regulation.

Another spokesperson, Mr Euston Johnson, feels that the relevant authorities are not adequately addressing the issue.

“Now, there are two problems,” Johnson explained. “Minibuses are imported with a seating capacity of 15, and this is based on international standards. Government needs to review its position on this.”

While acknowledging that 12-seater minibuses are also imported here, John said that importers or owner do add an additional seat in each vehicle thereby reducing the legroom for passengers and making them uncomfortable.

Johnson, like many other operators, agreed that installing an additional row of seats in a vehicle licensed to carry only 12 persons is the real breach of the regulation. He pointed out that owners and operators of such vehicles are the ones that should have to adjust the seating to comply with the new regulation.

In an earlier comment, Traffic Chief Michael Harlequin had told the Chronicle that since last year minibus operators were cautioned and sensitised about the regulations on seating capacity.

Harlequin said seating capacity in vehicles are 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 that each seat should have a width of 16 inches (40 centimeters).

He pointed out that the countries from which the buses originate might have permitted 15 seats but that Guyana’s regulations do not permit this.

According to Harlequin, dealers in vehicles do not, by law, have the right to determine the seating capacity of vehicles. That right is entrusted to the Traffic Department in accordance with the Motor Vehicles Act.

A recent check by this newspaper verified that in the case of the 15-seater buses imported with the seats installed, the space between the seats is 18 inches, one inch less than what the Guyana regulation stipulates. Minibus operators believe that Government should review its position on this.

Beharry Auto Sales, is one of the importers of Toyota minibuses in Guyana. One of the company’s sales official, in an invited comment told the Guyana Chronicle that there is a code, which determines the use of the vehicles. The code for Toyota being used as a commuter vehicle is RZH 114. Although many of the Toyota minibuses being used in Guyana as commuter vehicles, may not necessarily be the RZH 114.

There have been regular complaints from commuters about the discomfort they suffer as a result of extra seats in some buses. But with the enforcement of the regulation at hand, passengers are probably about to suffer greater discomfort as well as inconvenience as a result of the strike action by minibus operators.

Minibus operators want Government to adequately address the matter for the benefit of the travelling public as well as for those providing the service.