Minivans withdraw their services again
The government is being called on to adjust the COVID-19 protocols for public transportation, in the same way the protocols for religious organizations have been changed.
As of February 1, because of community spread of COVID-19, minivans were ordered to carry half the number of passengers they are licensed to carry.
This order has not yet been reviewed although the COVID-19 mass gathering protocols have been revised to allow churches to operate with one third of their normal capacity, up from the maximum of 10 persons that was allowed at churches prior to February 27.
Yesterday, as a result of what the Vincentian Transportation Association (VINTAS) considers unfair treatment, the organization, for the second time since February, called on its members to withdraw their services.
“We can’t say how long we are withdrawing for. We are prepared to hold out until we get the capacity issue sorted out,” Royron Adams, president of VINTAS told SEARCHLIGHT yesterday.
He said this most recent withdrawal of service is the most successful ever, with approximately 100 minivans deciding to come off the road.
VINTAS is calling on the government to increase the number of passengers they are allowed to carry to at least 12, up from the nine that 18-seater vans have been ordered to carry.
Adams said at this point, minivans are operating in a “hide and seek” manner as mostly all the vans are breaking the protocols despite a heightened police presence on the nation’s roads.
“This is not what we want,” he stressed.
Government has agreed to pay a subsidy of EC$500 for two months to 18-seater vans and EC$600 for those with over 18 seats, but Adams says they are stipulated to work a minimum of four days a week to get the subsidy, and this is not feasible.
“We feel that condition is too onerous,” Adams said while noting that vans may encounter many problems that keep them off the road.
He is also opined that if a van driver makes a business decision to take the subsidy and stay off the road, he should be allowed to this.
He said the average age of minivans is between 15 and 20 years so the maintenance risk is high.
Adams said most drivers prefer to be allowed to carry 12 passengers and not take the government subsidy.
“With 12, we can make a decent living during this difficult period,” Adams shared.
He said it is obvious, that for more reasons than one, the demand for public transportation has declined so some adjustments have to be made and VINTAS is asking the government for a maximum of 14 passengers and a minimum of 12.
“A year ago, the subsidy did not come with conditions and if that had been communicated to us at first, we would have objected,” Adams said while noting that VINTAS has never received written communication from government although they have written to the authorities.
“We have noticed the government has taken a favorable response to the religious sector and is allowing them to operate at one third of their capacity,” whereas the same is not done for a sector that contributes to employment and the critical importance of moving people.
“We deserve to have a capacity to allow us to make a decent living,” Adams said while adding that he does not have anything against churches.
Adams said also that he was informed, that yesterday, police officers were turning a blind eye to overloading as there were few buses on the road and persons were trying to go about their business.
“We understand the issues but we think they are trying to make us look foolish,” Adams said while noting that he has numerous recordings of overloading on Monday and police officers looking the other way.
He said a letter was sent to the government on Sunday and VINTAS is hoping that the government will revisit the capacity protocol as they have promised to do so.
VINTAS is asking the government to (1) remove the conditions for the subsidy, (2) rebuild the toilet facility that was near to the Caratal bridge in Georgetown and (3) install COVID-19 sanitization booths in Georgetown, Bequia and Union Island.
Adams said he is part of a regional minibus group and he can safely say that SVG is the furthest behind in terms of organization, structure and government support of minivans.
“When we made the suggestion for waivers… these are things that are happening in other places,” Adams said while noting that St Lucia has just issued $1.1 million in fuel rebate and waived operational costs for two years.
He noted that in St Lucia, the road fee is $150 compared to EC$800 in SVG while in Grenada the fee is $375.
“Why do we have to continue to be so heavily taxed? Even in a crisis, you not prepared to give us a chance?”, Adams questioned while noting that social distancing is not possible in a bus no matter the number of persons and the minibus sector is one of the first entities that began calling for the mandatory wearing of mask in public, since March 2020.
“We were first to ask for compulsory wearing of masks and it means we were always mindful of how important it is to stop the spread COVID-19. Give us our 12 at a minimum, that can’t hurt anybody,” Adams said.
He noted also that when VINTAS called for duty free concessions on buses with a capacity of 18 seats and greater, the public frowned.
“The budget presented is said to be for COVID-19 and after but when we made a request for something we can use after COVID-19, they saw it as ludicrous.
“The government can make plans for before and after but we can’t?” questioned Adams who is calling on persons to take an objective view of the situation.