Charity/Supenaam bus operators picket over seat cut
Stabroek News
January 22, 2004

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Charity/Supenaam minibus operators yesterday picketed the regional offices in Anna Regina to protest against the law which requires buses to carry only twelve seats.

Certificates of road fitness are being denied to operators who still have 15 seats in their minibuses, as part of the effort to enforce the law. According to the regulations which are now being enforced each seat must be 16 inches wide and there must be 19 inches from the front of a seat to the back. This regulation has necessitated the removal of seats from those 12-seater buses which were fitted with extra seats by dealers, although there is no clear provision for buses that were designed with 15 seats.

Officials have said that no new minibuses have been registered with fifteen seats since August last year, although owners and operators, like those from Charity/Supenaam and on the West Coast of Demerara, say otherwise.

Yesterday, several owners and operators of minibuses which ply Zone 21 parked their vehicles in front of the Region Two regional offices, joining in a strike that was initiated by West Demerara operators on Tuesday.

According to the President of the Region's Hire Car and Minibus Association, Mohammed Nazmool, most owners paid for 15-seater minibuses and are only now being told that the seating capacity will be reduced to twelve. The association says the government should have put systems in place by consulting owners and operators long before allowing them to invest in the 15-seater buses, instead of 12-seaters.

Nazmool said the reduction would mean less income for operators, who are already being squeezed by payments for fuel, spare parts, drivers and conductors.

One owner said he had bought a 15-seater rather than a 12-seater bus because he expected the three extra seats to earn him more to pay the $60,000 monthly installment he owes on the vehicle. He informed that the 15-seater costs $300,000 more than the 12-seater and by reducing the seats to twelve he still has to pay the extra $300,000.

Nazmool and owners also echoed the sentiments of some of the West Demerara owners, who said that with the reduction of the seats they could no longer afford to use conductors.

The owners and operators also expressed the view that they and other stakeholders should have been consulted before the law was enforced. Traffic Chief Michael Harlequin in a statement yesterday said that operators were sensitised about the seating capacity last year.

The strike yesterday intensified during the day as more buses joined the picket line, while students, teachers and workers waited in vain until some eventually resorted to walking home while others used taxis.

Region Two Regional Chairman Ali Baksh eventually met with the picketing operators, who were told that he could not rule on the matter as it was a national policy issue.

Baksh however promised to make contact with the relevant authorities to see how the issue can be resolved. He said while he shared the concern of the owners and operators a decision has to be made at the national level.

The owners and operators said that they will continue to strike until their plight is addressed.

On the West Coast Demerara yesterday there were more buses on the road, as the strike continued but with far less support than on Tuesday when some commuters were left stranded during the early part of the day.