No word on review of minibus seats law
Stabroek News
May 9, 2004

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Police are still awaiting word on the review of a law stipulating the reduction of the seating capacity in long wheelbase minibuses, three months after enforcement plans were put on hold.

Operators across the country went on strike in January when police attempted to enforce the 40-year-old law, which would have seen the removal of three passenger seats from long wheelbase 15-seater buses.

President Bharrat Jagdeo intervened and ordered that the law be suspended for three months pending a review by the Home Affairs Ministry, bringing an end to the strike. But the three months have now passed with none of the stakeholders having anything to report about the revision.

Then acting commissioner of police Floyd McDonald, who retired two weeks after the strike, was quoted by the Government Information Agency (GINA) as saying that there would have been thorough consultations with all the stakeholders, including minibus owners and operators.

"We hope that [a] meaningful and amicable solution will be found to the problem," GINA quoted him as saying. Stabroek News attempted to contact Minister of Home Affairs Ronald Gajraj and the ministry's Permanent Secretary Angela Johnson for comments on the developments, but queries were directed to Traffic Chief Michael Harlequin.

"Since then, there's nothing further on that issue," Harlequin told Stabroek News when asked about the revision this week.

But he wasn't the only person who was in the dark about the review.

"We have not heard anything... [but] we are still very concerned about the issue," says Compton Giddings, President of the Public Transportation Association, which represents minibus operators and taxi-drivers.

He said he expected the Home Minister would have reviewed the law, which he thinks needs to be amended to cater for minibuses, rather than the larger motorbuses for which they were drafted.

"We are in limbo right now... we are waiting for government to do something," he said, adding that recommendations were already made for contingency measures when the issue first surfaced three months ago.

According to the Motor Vehicle and Road Traffic Act each seat must be 16 inches wide and there must be 19 inches between the front of a seat to the back. This means that three seats would have to be removed from long wheelbase buses which are originally designed with 15 seats.

The operators have said they are willing to yield on 12-seat buses that were altered to include three extra seats, but remain unmoved on the long wheelbase buses.

In the event that the issue does arise again, Giddings said, some operators have retained an attorney to represent their interests in the matter.

Meanwhile, Parliament's Economic Services Committee is also still considering a petition by minibus operators from the West Coast Demerara who had complained about the seating issue.

However, the committee's work had been stalled by a procedural discrepancy over whether the panel had the power to summon the Police Commissioner, who was required to clarify certain aspects of the law. The issue was only resolved within the last week, allowing for the commission to restart its work.