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A tale of two public transport system

A tale of two public transport system


In the wake of the turbulence created by striking members of the National Omni Buses Association (NOBA), some here felt that St Vincent and the Grenadines should look to Barbados as a possible example of how to structure its public transport system.

In the far-eastern Caribbean island, public transportation

is provided jointly by the state-owned Transport Board as well as the privately owned minibuses and “route taxis”.{{more}}

SEARCHLIGHT spoke with president of the Barbados Route Taxi Association (ROTA), Judy Forde, to learn how the private operators co-exist within the public transport sector and put to her the ongoing dispute in St Vincent and the Grenadines and the proposals placed on the table by the Ralph Gonsalves Administration.

“All the (Barbados) private sector continues to get is orchestrated harassment and direct threats,” Forde told the Searchlight.

“If we had the kind of concessions being offered by the Vincentian government we would be smiling all the way to the bank, in fact we would be happy for even half of the Gonsalves offer because it demonstrates that the government at least considers private sector as an important cog in public transport wheel”.

Forde said that the private operators continue to labour under onerous and discriminatory regulation when compared to the Transport Board.

The bus routes in Barbados are fixed and sliced up in three ways with different types of vehicles, each licensed to carry a different number of passengers. They are distinguished by the license plate.

For example, the Transport Board with a “BM” license plate is authorized to carry 34 passengers in its small bus and 41 in its bigger bus.

The privately-owned minibus with a “B” license plate can carry up to 31 passengers and the Route Taxis designed “ZR” are licensed for up to 14.

The Transport Board operates on all routes but less on some than others.

Long haul routes are unprofitable so no Route Taxis ply these routes and very few minibuses.

The short haul routes, which are normally in thickly populated areas, are very profitable so Route Taxis and minibuses ply these routes. Commuters prefer the ubiquitous private transport to the less frequent Transport Board.


The law sets out the maximum number of licenses that can be granted for all privately-owned public transport vehicles such as taxis, Route Taxis, minibuses, “ZM” (tourist sector), limousines and others. The minister responsible for public transport determines how many will be issued for each route.

Forde said that the fees are discriminatory.

For example, a 14-seater Route Taxi pays an annual fee of BDS$4,500 (EC$6,111) while the 31-passenger minibus pays BDS$7,250 (EC$9,594) compared to both the 34- and 41-seater Transport Board buses pay BDS$800 (EC$1,058) per year and receive other subsidies totalling millions of dollars per year.

Drivers and conductors must also be licensed to operate.

The fee for a minibus driver is BDS$205 and Route Taxi is BDS$210. Conductors all pay BDS$115 per year.


The sector is plagued with a list of customer service woes similar to St Vincent and the Grenadines efforts are on to crack down on bad behaviour, reckless driving, overloading, stopping at places other than bus poles among other complaints.

Some insurance companies are now refusing to insure vehicles unless the driver has had a public service vehicle driver’s licence for five years or more. This effectively shuts out new drivers and puts owners in the dilemma of hiring from the same pool that contain the bad apples.

Other insurance companies will license them after exhaustive checks but on condition that the vehicle carries a large and conspicuous sticker with a complaints hotline telephone number. After a certain number of complaints, the company penalizes the owner by canceling the insurance.

The owners have complained that they never know when their drivers misbehave or are reported by the police and so they can take no action. The Road Traffic Act is being amended to put the owners into the picture and hold them partly responsible for the offences committed by their employees.

Unlike St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Barbados operators have received no subsidies, concessions, or even offers on fuel, tyres, or parts.

As a result vehicles which should be changed every three years are forced to remain in service for up to seven years because of the high maintenance costs, low profit margins, astronomical insurance, and long periods to repay bank loans.