Scores of commuters were today caught off guard, as privately-owned public service vehicle (PSV) operators responded, in a limited way, to calls for them to withdraw their services.
The action which was called for by the Joint Committee of the Alliance of Owners of Public Transport (AOPT) and the Association of Public Transport Operators (APTO) came ahead of a scheduled meeting tomorrow with Minister of Transport & Works Michael Lashley.
Spokeswoman for the operators Ingrid King told Barbados TODAY the intention was to send a very clear signal to the minister that they were serious about having their concerns addressed.
King, who spoke following a closed-door meeting held by the operators last night at the Dalkeith headquarters of the National Union of Public Workers, accused the minister of stalling on a number of outstanding grievances. Among them are duty free concessions for the importation of new buses, as well as a request for outbound buses to use Baxters Road, and for inbound vehicles to be allowed to pick up passengers on Tudor Street, The City.
Private PSV operators have also been asking for representation on the board of the state-run Barbados Transport Authority. However, King said they feared a repeat of last year’s scenario when the minister successfully averted their planned strike while their concerns were left unanswered.
It was not immediately clear if today’s protest action would carry over into tomorrow. However, King has warned passengers to brace for some disruption along the route.
In the meantime, an upset Lashley, who was caught off guard by today’s strike, said he was taken aback by the move by the PSV operators.
In fact, he accused the operators of negotiating in “bad faith” while pointing out that APTO had requested a postponement of their meeting with him, which was originally scheduled for last Tuesday.
However, he warned that neither he nor his Government would be held to ransom, as he assured that provisions had been made with the state-run Transport Board to pick up the slack and to aid the displaced commuters, many of whom were also taken by surprise by today’s action, which came amid intermittent showers.
When Barbados TODAY visited the Cheapside bus terminal around ten o’clock this morning, there were only a handful of ZRs and several passengers left waiting for a No. 3 route taxi to travel to Wanstead. At the time there were only two Route 3 taxis parked at the terminal but their doors and windows were closed.
One woman told Barbados TODAY she was not aware there was a strike on.
“I’m trying to get to Wanstead but he [the driver] said he ain’t working,” she said.
The driver, who declined to give his name, said he began working this morning but after hearing news of the strike over the radio, he decided to stop.
“I ain’t working, I supporting the other men. I ain’t sure how long the strike will last but today I ain’t working,” he said.
However, drivers of Route 4 taxis, which service the Deacons and Grazettes areas, appeared not to be supporting the strike.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” one driver said. “I hear on the radio they say they on strike but I ain’t about nutten so. All I know is they had a meeting yesterday but I ain’t know nutten else. I working.”
However, Barbados TODAY soon caught up with driver Ricardo Forde, who was credited by his colleagues for marshaling the fairly successful strike effort at Cheapside.
He told Barbados TODAY they were willing to stay off the job for as long as it takes to have their demands met. He also intimated that their actions had the full backing of the PSV owners, adding that he expects today’s limited strike to snowball into a much wider public transportation shutdown.
“We are willing to do whatever it takes. The owners are behind us. As a matter of fact [it is] the owners [who] start this,” Forde said.
“Our goals are the same but they [Government} have to sort out the Baxters Road situation immediately, then we can work with them on the other things that need fixing,” he added.
The PSV spokesman also pointed out that a number of unmet promises were made three months ago at a meeting between stakeholders and representatives from the Ministry of Transportation and Works (MTW).
"I went to that meeting at MTW and sat right next to officials at the ministry and heard promises made. Since then no kind of action has been taken on any of the promises. We recommended that some of the vans which operate from Cheapside be allowed to go back Baxters Road and some to service the people on Fontabelle and we haven’t heard anything about that. No one is trying to help us,” he lamented.
The outspoken driver also expressed regret that commuters who depend on their service were being made to suffer as a result of the impasse.
"We love the commuters and we would love nothing better than to go now and take the commuters home and to work. However, until somebody comes and addresses that Main Guard issue we can’t do anything. If that is solved, we are willing to go back to work and deal with the other small issues later,” Forde stressed.
Over at the River Bus Terminal a full fleet of minibuses and route taxis greeted Barbados TODAY, with passengers hurrying to secure a seat in a bid to escape the showers.
One driver, who did not wish to be named, said he only heard about the strike on the radio this morning, but he would not be supporting it.
"I’m working. I have no idea what’s going on but the men [are] at work. I need money so I gotta work to get my money, I ain’t part of no strike.” he said.