West Dem buses strike over seat cut
Drivers say conductors may have to go
Stabroek News
January 21, 2004

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Saying no to 12 seats: Route 32 (Georgetown-Parika) minibuses lined up along the Uitvlugt Public Road yesterday. (Photo by Jules Gibson) ??

A strike by minibus operators over a law fixing 12 as the number of passenger seats left many West Demerara commuters stranded yesterday morning but the situation eased by late afternoon.

Scores of operators who ply the Georgetown to Parika route gathered along the Uitvlugt Public Road yesterday morning refusing to work until their plight is addressed by the authorities, who are refusing to renew road certificates for minibuses that are fitted with fifteen seats.

"What they are doing will cripple the minibus industry... we will have to park them," one operator said from the crowd of operators, who plan to continue strike action for the rest of the week.

Yesterday many commuters could be seen walking the streets on the West Coast of Demerara, waving frantically at nearly all approaching minibuses in hopes of getting a lift.

But by afternoon many buses were transporting passengers, although some commuters were left waiting for long periods.

Enforcement of the regulation began in August last year and no new minibuses have been registered with fifteen seats since that time. Certifying officers at the Licence Revenue Department are now ensuring that minibus owners who apply for the renewal of the certificate of fitness do not install more than the required number of seats. Officials within the Customs and Trade Administration are also enforcing the regulation, ensuring that fifteen-seat minibuses are not cleared for entry into the country.

But operators, including some who were denied a renewal of their certificate of road fitness, say they cannot operate with the regulation which cuts into their profits and forces them to drop their conductors. And in an effort to complete this exercise by the first quarter of this year notices were given to operators and dealers.

In an earlier interview with Stabroek News, Traffic Chief, Michael Harlequin, said the law did state that the allocation of seats in minibuses must be done by a certifying officer at the Licence Revenue Office.

However, he said this was not being done and dealers would install the seats in minibuses and then sell them to persons who would then go to the licence office for the vehicle to be registered.

According to regulations, each seat must be 16 inches wide and there must be 19 inches between the front of a seat to the back.

According to Ganga Persaud, a driver/owner, operators feel that removing the seat severely handicaps their chances of making a profit since they will be basically making the same number of trips with fewer passengers. And he said all the operating costs like gasoline prices and the toll for crossing the Demerara River remain the same.

"We have to run the bus at a cost where we could earn a profit [but] we will be losing at least $4,000 a day," Persaud said.

"I own a bus. I have a wife and a child. I'm paying $56,000 a month in installments and I don't make that now. If they reduce the number of seats to twelve how much am I going to make. We are feeling the squeeze with the fifteen seats, how can we make it with twelve seats? I am not getting money from anywhere. I just have this bus and I am paying installments," Latchman Persaud, another minibus owner said.

Most owners said if the seats are removed it would be difficult to retain the services of conductors for their buses, a prospect which they said would leave hundreds without jobs.

And while the regulations do stipulate that each seat must be 16 inches wide and there must be 19 inches between the front of a seat to the back, operators said removing the seat and making more room would make trips more dangerous for passengers, particularly when there are sudden stops.

"What would happen if a woman is sitting, holding a child, and suddenly a horse jumps into the road?" a driver asked. He contended that the extra seats would serve as a brake to the passenger being pitched violently forward.