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January 29, 2010

Bus operators to go on strike today

Commuters are expected to be left stranded today if mini bus operators hold true to their word to withhold their services to protest what they are referring to as “unnecessary police harassment.”{{more}}

Some minibus operators, now calling themselves the “Mini-bus Alliance in association with the National Omni Bus Association (NOBA)”, are urging all van operators to “unite against the police action.”

At a meeting of the grouping held on Tuesday evening at the Leeward Bus Terminal, many of the mini bus operators and owners present said that they were feeling the “squeeze” by members of the Traffic Department of the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force.

“Right now we are facing a problem – we getting harassed by the Police too much. Enough is enough!” Anthony Bacchus, driver of the minibus ‘Code Red’ said.

“Van drivers are being targeted and it is over bearing,” Bacchus told SEARCHLIGHT. “We are really fed up and we are hoping that the harassment will stop.”

“If a van man breaks the law, he deserves to get a ticket, but he should not have to deal with it unnecessarily,” the disgruntled mini bus operator contended.

Bacchus said that the drivers will be calling on the relevant authorities, including the Commissioner of Police, to come forward and make a public announcement as to what is regarded as legal accessories on public transportation vehicles.

Meanwhile, many drivers say that they are being harassed about the size of the rims and tyres on their vehicles.

Hyon Ellis, the owner of the minibus ‘Toppa’, told SEARCHLIGHT that he was stopped and instructed to take his van into the Central Police Station, so that the tyres could be measured. Ellis said he was later instructed to remove the tyres before he would be allowed to operate the vehicle. He admitted that he did not comply, and the van was again detained and is, according to Ellis, still being detained by the police.

The owner of the van ‘Mystro’ said that he, too, had his van detained for similar reasons.

Other van owners and operators spoke of being harassed for what they are terming petty offences.

However, head of the Traffic Department of the Royal St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force Inspector Kenneth John said that he does not think his men are “harassing” mini bus operators.

“That is just how they see it,” Inspector John told SEARCHLIGHT.

“If they drive within the law and they comply with the rules and regulations, they would not have a problem,” he said.

John contended that it was only a fraction of the van operators who were having issues with the police.

In relation to the size of rims and tyres, John explained that particular attention was being paid to this, as oversized wheels were potentially hazardous.

John also noted that in his opinion, persons were interpreting the law regarding overhanging vehicle accessories incorrectly.

In Ellis’s case, John said that the tyres on his vehicle were definitely not the recommended type. He said it was the owner’s refusal to comply with the request to rectify the problem that resulted in the vehicle being detained a second time.

John said that the owner walked out of the station when he was informed that he needed to comply with the first request to remove the oversized rims and tyres.

He also indicated that any licensing officer or constable has the authority to detain any vehicle if it is found to be in violation of the regulations.

Meanwhile, meetings have been held between various groups of road users and the Commissioner of Police in order to inform them of the relevant regulations, John said.

He pointed out that since the announcement of increased vigilance by the traffic department, many van operators have complied with the rules governing safe operations.

“So what we are doing is working,” John said.

He added that his department had recorded a decline in reported accidents so far for the year as compared to 2008 and 2009.

“We are not harassing drivers. All we are doing is ensuring that the roads are safe and that all motor vehicles are licensed and insured,” said John.