VINTAS to hold discussion with government
by Lyf Compton
The Vincentian Transportation Association (VINTAS) and government will meet today to discuss the safe and profitable operation of minivans in an era of COVID-19.
Among the issues to be discussed are a subsidy proposed by government, registration and sanitization of minivans and other concessions for the public transportation sector.
But Minister of Transport and Works Julian Francis is of the view that VINTAS is operating in a disorganized manner.
Francis, speaking on radio on April 14, said VINTAS held a meeting earlier that day, during which minivan operators were asked to continue withholding their services.
And while certain demands are being made by VINTAS, Francis said that no official documentation has been sent to the government.
He also noted that he had never heard of the organization before a meeting that was held with government two weeks ago.
But when contacted yesterday, VINTAS’s Acting Vice President Royron Adams told SEARCHLIGHT that it seems as if persons misinterpreted what was said at the April 14 meeting.
Francis said on radio that during Tuesday’s meeting, attended by over 120 minivan operators (Adams put the number closer to 160), a suggestion was made to ask government for concessions on fuel, tires and service parts among other things.
He said VINTAS basically rejected the government’s offer to provide minivans with a subsidy of $250 a month for two months to help them with the economic fallout from COVID-19.
Francis said the government’s plan to sanitize vans seems to have also been rejected by VINTAS who would prefer if the sanitization products were given to the minivans.
In order to qualify for the benefits, minivan owners have been asked to register with the Ministry and Transport and Works, but Francis said VINTAS is encouraging its members not to register.
Tuesday’s meeting also touched on the legal right of minivans to carry 18 passengers.
The ministry of health has asked minivans to practice physical distancing by carrying nine passengers, including the conductor. Police officers are supervising this part of the initiative.
“We cannot continue and keep the people at ransom. Resume the operation and help the people and we can discuss,” Francis said of the decision by some minivans to withhold service.
He said while persons are saying the $250 is not enough, one can look at what the government is doing and safely say that the minivans are getting more than $250, as the rest of the money is being given through the reduction in the price of fuel and the sanitization process, which can amount to $900 per minivan.
The government has budgeted $300,000 is to cover expenses for the sanitization and registration programs while $700,000 is for the $250 subsidy.
The transport minister said the unavailability of a proper public transportation system can negatively affect the economy and will prevent essential workers from getting to their jobs.
Adams however told SEARCHLIGHT that the association never encouraged persons to not register their minivans or to refuse the government’s subsidy.
He said the discussions about tires and service parts had nothing to do with government and are in fact more about benefits that could accrue as the organization enters into strategic partnerships to benefit members.
“That was more an internal discussion than a news item,” Adams said, while adding that a politician will always be a politician.
“I want people to be mindful of that and when they (politicians) speak, they speak with the intent of having a specific result and I don’t speak politics on these matters.
VINTAS is expected to meet with government today, Friday April 17 and Adams said he is looking forward to fruitful discussions that will benefit both sides as they try to function in a COVID-19 environment.
The acting vice president said while government is claiming there are 1400 minivans operating in the country, the number is closer to 600.
As to the promised $250 subsidy, Adams said that they are not satisfied with the amount.
“Which business would be satisfied with something that is less than 5% of their revenue? The issue is not about satisfaction. It is about whether or not the numbers based on which this figure was derived are actual numbers,” he explained.
He said it needs to be confirmed that the $700,000 being put aside to pay the subsidy will change if it is confirmed that only 600 minivans are operational.
“This is a member-focused organization and will always be on the issue of membership and creating value for membership. I’m not going to get wrapped up in that. I can’t win that war,” Adams stressed.
He said that he is going into today’s meeting with an open mind.