Operators say COVID-19 killing minivans
by Lyf Compton
Many of the over 1700 minivan operators are already feeling the chilling effects of COVID-19.
With school children out of school, fewer workers travelling, and now, the call by government for minivans to reduce the number of passengers they carry per trip, operators have been hit where it hurts – in their pocket.
On Wednesday, the Leeward bus terminal was like a ghost town with only about five present.
“I think certain things can be handled in a better way. It’s a give and take situation yes, but certain things not really clear,” van operator Hayden Joseph of Arnos Vale commented.
“…We have been asked to downsize the amount we carry. We don’t mind downsizing, but we will need some sort of help.
“Certain things like fuel could be reduced more because the $1 wouldn’t cut it and he (Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves) knows that.
He also said the Covid-19 subsidy of $250 to $300 a month offered by the Government to minivans will not do.
He said his words do not mean he does not understand the seriousness of COVID-19 and he does not want the virus to spread here, but in his opinion, our borders should have been closed a long time ago.
“Now we have more cases on our hand, ok fine, stop the murmuring and take control about it.
“Self-quarantine ain’t working. You come in the country, lock you down somewhere for 14 days, after you get to go home, that’s how I look at it,” the experienced minivan owner offered.
He added that at this point, his minivan is his only source of income and minivans offer a public service that people depend on.
He said he is trying to comply with the social distancing measures put out by the Ministry of Health by carrying nine passengers, but the commuters are the ones who are resisting.
“I will try to comply with the nine, but when you meet the crowd, they are the ones that come into your van because they want to go.
“They know the risk and they decide to put themselves in and they decide to go. I know the risk and as human, anybody who meet the load will go with it, they will not refuse and pray to God and hope for the best nothing happen…but we need the help,” Joseph said while checking to see how many persons had entered his bus.
“Responsibility is a heavy thing,” he continued while adding that unity is needed to get control of the situation and support and cooperation is what helps to fight COVID-19.
“We at an advantage here still. We could have control of this thing because most the cases come from outside and we can control it, but a lot of politics playing and certain people don’t want to do certain things but we can make things work,” Joseph voiced.
He added that he was a member of the now defunct National Omnibus Association (NOBA) but he is not a member of the Vincentian Transportation Association (VINTAS) and neither he was approached by anyone to explain why a recommendation was made to stop his service for 14 days.
VINTAS on Sunday asked its members to suspend their services beginning April 8.
“If they had approached me and explained, then things could happen but for right now, I am working for my income and it’s my only source,” Joseph highlighted.
Across the bus terminal was Alvan Lovelace, an operator with seven years experience.
“Me just ah try cope along still but ah plenty pressure for me. Real pressure, but me just ah try cope and see the scene,” Lovelace told SEARCHLIGHT.
He added that he is not a member of VINTAS, and he was not contacted by anyone to explain why he should be off the road.
“They say come off the road for them health, but this is my only source of income and I can’t afford to pull off the road,” Lovelace said.
He added that once police officers are on the road, he adheres to the Ministry of Health’s call to reduce the number of passengers he carries, but without a police presence, things can change.
“I fulling my van because I know is pressure for me. We frighten, basically we frighten, but we have we bills to pay still. Rent to pay, loan to pay, kids to mind.
“If the government so care for we, then the government should shut down the country, but as a poor man, carrying them numbers ain’t make no sense. Two on a seat can’t solve we problem,” Lovelace stressed.
He added that the $1 reduction in gas prices isn’t cutting it and it should be further reduced in order to make a positive impact on the van drivers’ situation.
“Everything still high, insurance still high, license still high,” Lovelace pointed out.
Another driver, Grantley Dublin, said he normally runs a taxi service, but several persons in his community of Green Hill asked him to operate as a minivan as many public transport operators in the area have suspended their services.
He however noted that when COVID-19 reared its ugly head, his taxi business was immediately killed.
“You ain’t doing nothing since the tourist season pull up. I ain’t hoist a stroke and I never get a dollar since the tourist season pull up, so that’s the reason, I go on to do a little work on the minibus,” Dublin said.
He noted also that the number of suggested passengers (eight, plus the conductor) is not profitable, but they must try to cope.
“The most important thing is about your safety.”
He however suggested that every person who rides in the van should wear a face mask and the conductors should sanitize everyone’s hands.
“It would have been safer,” Dublin, who was wearing a mask, suggested.
“This is as serious thing and I have a family and I have to protect and fresh up myself to go home. I can’t sit down so that is the reason I come out and hustle here,” Dublin explained.