Minibus seat rule on hold
-law to be reviewed
Stabroek News
January 28, 2004

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Where are the buses? At the Square of the Revolution, where Route 44 (George-town-Mahaica) operators parked their vehicles yesterday to protest the enforcement of a law requiring that they reduce their seating capacity. Operators later took their complain

The enforcement of the law requiring the reduction of the seating capacity in long wheelbase buses has been suspended pending a review.

The announcement was made yesterday, following a meeting between President Bharrat Jagdeo and minibus owners and operators at the Office of the President, where concerns about the seating regulations were ventilated.

Operators of the various routes around the country had resorted to strike action to protest the enforcement of the 40-year-old law which requires the removal of three passenger seats from the long wheelbase 15-seater buses. There had been significant disruption on some routes as a result of the strike.

"What will be done now is that arrangements will be put in place to ensure that the traffic officers do not enforce this law until the revision is done," acting Traffic Chief Michael Harlequin was quoted as saying by the Government Information Agency (GINA). Harlequin was present at the meeting along with the Minister of Home Affairs, Ronald Gajraj and the acting Police Commissioner Floyd McDonald.

"We hope that [a] meaningful and amicable solution will be found to the problem," McDonald said.

He told GINA that the revision process will start shortly and will see thorough consultations being held with all stakeholders, including minibus owners and operators to ensure satisfactory resolutions.

The Home Affairs Minister said he believed that the President had exercised leniency based on the clamour by the owners and operators. But he pointed out that the President made it very clear that the suspension of the law is only temporary until it is revised.

Gajraj also said that the President cautioned the operators about the manner in which they deliver service to the public and he urged full compliance with all other existing traffic laws.

Meanwhile, Parliament's Economic Services Commit-tee is scheduled to meet today to continue its review of the petition by the operators plying the roads on the West Coast of Demerara. They formally complained to the committee about the enforcement of the law, citing the job cuts and higher fares that could result. Chairman, James McAllister, told Stabroek News that when the Committee met last week a decision was taken to review the Act, which may contain provisions that are not in force but which could prohibit buses from the road if they are. This is because the regulations were drafted for the larger model buses that once sustained the public transportation system. Today the Committee will hear submissions about the provisions of the Act.

From the beginning of the year certificates of road fitness were denied to operators who did not comply with the law, Section 150 (b) of the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic Act, a provision that has not been enforced for years.

According to the law each seat must be 16 inches wide and there must be 19 inches between the front of a seat to the back. For the owners of the 15-seater long wheelbase vehicles, this means the removal of three seats in order to meet the requirements of the regulations.

While operators say they are willing to yield on 12-seater buses that have been altered to include three extra seats, they say they are unwilling to concede on the long wheelbase buses. They contend that there is danger in altering the buses from the designers' specifications, which they say could increase the chances of accidents.

The enforcement of the provisions of the law began last August, when the registration of fifteen-seater minibuses was discontinued. Certifying officers at the Licence Revenue Department are now ensuring that the minibuses which apply for renewal of the certificate of fitness do not install more than the required number of seats. The Customs and Trade Administration is also enforcing the regulation, ensuring that fifteen-seater minibuses are not cleared for entry into the country.

There were strikes by operators plying Route 44 (G/Town-Mahaica), Route 50 (G/Town-Rosignol), Route 32 (G/town-Parika) and Route 21 (Charity/Supenaam), which stranded commuters over the last week. Representatives from routes 32, 44, 41, 63 and 50 attended the meeting with the President yesterday.