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August 30, 2011

The withdrawal of service by some members of the National Omnibus Association (NOBA) was expected to continue today, Tuesday, August 30, as mini-bus owners and operators step up with efforts for government to amend certain aspects of the recently enacted bus fare schedule.{{more}}

Anthony Bacchus, President of NOBA, told SEARCHLIGHT yesterday, Monday, that their protest action was not going to be deterred by the small number of members who took part, and that members had agreed to continue with the planned protest action tomorrow, Wednesday, and next Monday, September 5, the beginning of the 2011/2012 school year.

“We know our strike has been effective, although we have been seeing vans on the road,” Bacchus said.

He went on to say that a few minibuses were in operation in areas including Largo Height, Calliaqua, Richland Park, Mesopotamia, Georgetown, Owia, Fancy and Sandy Bay.

Bacchus contended that the situation was similar on the Leeward side of the island, explaining that in areas that were usually serviced by 15 or so buses, the numbers were down in the single digits.

“To us, the public is still moving, but they are moving slowly. It could be faster on another day,” NOBA’s president asserted.

He did, however, express some disappointment in what he said were “the ones that worked,” saying that they were “small-minded.”

“We worked so hard to help them and they still being greedy and not cooperating,” Bacchus told SEARCHLIGHT.

NOBA called for Omnibus owners and operators to withdraw services after members, particularly those operating on the northern end of the country, rejected the recently enacted fares.

Members are also up in arms over an amendment regarding the rates to school children.

The new law states that schoolchildren between the ages 4 and 16 would pay half the rate, whereas the previous piece of legislation charged 75 per cent to children 11 to 16 and out of uniform.

NOBA members contend that they cannot accept this, as this would then mean that they collect less than before on the fares for schoolchildren.

But Minister of Transport and Works Senator Julian Francis said at a press conference last Thursday, August 25, that he was not going to present a new set of rates to Cabinet in such a short space of time.

“This requires more serious discussion than just jumping from $6 to $8 then coming to tell me you are going to withdraw services,” Francis contended.

According to Francis, the issue needed to be balanced.

“As Minister of Transport, I have a responsibility to look out for all the stakeholders in this industry,” he said.

He maintained his position that the proposed rates put forward by NOBA were substantial, and that based on discussions with the Transport Board, a decision was made that they could not grant the increased proposals.

“We had to strike a compromise,” he said.

“After meeting with the Transport Board, I took the initiative to contact Mr Bacchus and he came with his executive and we discussed the rates as proposed and recommended,” Francis said.

He further explained that the rates were put to NOBA’s president and they sat down and an agreement was reached; the rates were taken to Cabinet and approved and now it was going to be difficult to go and have them changed again.

Francis further contended that it was the minibus association, by way of a letter dated July 12, 2011, which had agreed to use the 50 per cent rate for schoolchildren.

“The traveling public is making more demands on the minibus association and that they are not prepared to look at.”

It was with this point that Francis said that NOBA needed to consult the traveling public.

“You have to listen to them; you have to stop being rude to them; you have to stop giving them short drops; you have to stop this loud and lewd music in the vans that many of your commuters are complaining about.”

Bacchus, however, responded that the Minister is fully aware of the issues mini-bus operators and owners have and that he is fully aware that those areas not granted an increase deserve to get one.

“Francis says he is not going through the hassle; why don’t you meet us half way like you asked us to meet you half way?” he said.