As if the COVID pandemic has not done enough damage to our society, another troubling offshoot came sharply into focus this week. We speak here about the withdrawal of service by the privately-operated transport sector which necessitated a meeting between the organisation representing minibus owners and operators and a high-powered government delegation led by Prime Minister Gonsalves and his deputy, Transport Minister Montgomery Daniel.
The organisation, the Vincentian Transport Association (VINTAS), has been complaining about the effect that regulations governing the number of passengers in a bus, which have been occasioned by COVID-related health concerns, have been having on their earnings.
There is no doubt that the minibus service has become an essential lifeline in the functioning of our society. Entirely of private sector origin, it sprung up to address a pressing need in our society, but has become a vital cog in the wheel of our society with workers and students particularly reliant on it. Yet the nature of its origin means that there is much which needs to be addressed through a reform of the sector.
This in fact is recognized by VINTAS, a successor to previous organisations in the sector. It says that its main aim is “to bring structure, organisation, rules and guidance to the public transportation”, but it is a task which has proven difficult to be accomplished. Very often this need for reform of the sector has come into focus only in times of crisis and once the most pressing problem of the day has been addressed, we go back to square one.
That reality is a far from desirable one for while the sector serves an invaluable need in the society, its very ad hoc nature and the piecemeal attempts at reform, including the failure to implement agreed upon reforms or to enforce regulations often results in a somewhat chaotic situation. In addition many, perhaps most drivers and operators only pay heed to the leadership of the sector in times of crisis.
Some of the demands put forward by VINTAS have been dismissed as “ridiculous” by the government which has promised though to at least provide a subsidy and to formally reply to VINTAS’ demands by today.
There are valid concerns on both sides and on the part of the commuting public as well. These cry out for collective attention and a joint effort to put this sector on a more organised and secure footing. Many ideas have been mooted over the years but have fallen by the wayside. Some, like a ticket system and the e-bus project funded by the Taiwanese are yet to come into fruition.
There is also the urgent need to publish and enforce standards for drivers, conductors etc. and for government to seriously address the concerns of this sector not on any reactive basis, but as part of a long-term effort. VINTAS too has its work cut out to gather its flock together in a united and organised manner, gaining the respect and admiration of the entire sector.
The local transportation lifeline is too indispensable to be ignored.