Mini-van operators facing big challenge in face of COVID-19
A BOTTLE of rubbing alcohol filled three-quarters of the way, and a bottle of hand sanitiser sat in a tissue box on the dashboard of a white van travelling the Prospect route.
These items are the weapons of choice for van driver Spyder in his fight to protect himself and customers from the coronavirus (COVID-19).
“What you mean?! Watch the place. It affecting us,” he told SEARCHLIGHT as he expressed his thoughts on how COVID-19 was affecting his business.
He sat in his parked van at the entrance of Little Tokyo, waiting for passengers to fill his seats as he said that fewer persons have been travelling.
And he believes that this is due to persons not going into their offices to work.
Spyder’s daily routine now involves sanitising his hands after every trip, a midday clean with bleach on the interior of the van and another one at the end of the work-day.
He chuckled when asked about social distancing and he doesn’t believe that it’s something that omnibus operators can implement.
“How we go do that?,” Spyder questioned.
The van driver pointed to an elderly woman sitting two seats across from him in the front of the vehicle and said “she paying for da seat dey,” referencing the empty seat between them.
“I don’t think we could do anything. Once you have the public moving up and down, everybody at risk,” he said. “Everybody should just practice their hygiene and do well with it.”
Another van driver, who works in the Clare Valley area said he has been following the guidelines of the ministry of health and washing and sanitising his hands.
But he too doesn’t believe that social distancing can be achieved on omnibuses because then it would mean that operators lose a significant amount of income.
“Our bus fare is very minimal, cheap bus fare and if we have to practice social distancing, it means that we will have one or two persons in the seats….that’s kind of difficult when it comes to the vans,” he said.
St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on March 11.
While some van drivers like Spyder have doubled their efforts to maintain a clean van, others have maintained their regular routine.
One van driver, who works the Villa/Glen route admitted that he hasn’t given much thought to the coronavirus being in SVG.
And he told SEARCHLIGHT that he’s not particularly worried about it.
“I ain’t really studying it…people have to travel still,” the driver said, shrugging his shoulders.
While most customers are seemingly okay with the normal routines of public transportation, one woman travelling to the Leeward side of the island believes that van drivers are approaching the situation in a lax manner.
“The van men, they don’t care. Everything is normal, they’re still trying to full the vans to the brim. So it’s all on you to take care of yourself,” she told SEARCHLIGHT.
She also compared her travel experience to being at a banking institution where everyone in the lines are required to be three feet away from each other.
“Nothing in place to show people that they care and concerned about what going on in this country when it comes to the coronavirus,” she said again of the van drivers, while noting that she had a bottle of hand sanitiser in her bag.
Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves also addressed the matter of public transportation in relation to COVID-19 during his national address on Wednesday, March 25.
“I am strongly advising minibus operators to be very sensitive to the matter of overcrowding on these buses and cease it forthwith,” Gonsalves said.
The Prime Minister said that minibuses must be sanitised and cleaned on an ongoing basis to prevent the possibility of spreading the virus.
He also called on passengers to act sensibly in protecting themselves “given the requisite of personal or social distancing and the practice of good hygiene in the fight against COVID-19”.