The recently announced plan by Minister of Transport and Works Michael Lashley to use coaches to transport school children is nothing more than an ill-conceived election gimmick, according to President of the Association of Public Transport Operators (APTO) Morris Lee.
In fact, Lee said any such plan announced at this stage to fix the myriad of issues plaguing the state-owned Transport Board ought not to be taken seriously by stakeholders until voters have had their say at the polls, constitutionally due by the middle of the year.
“Any intention to give the Transport Board the attention that it deserves is something that would require the attention of a minister that forms part of a new Government after the election is called. The things that the minister wants to do would require parliamentary and Cabinet discussion and the time for that is swiftly coming to an end,” Lee told Barbados TODAY.
“The fact that he has gone ahead and made these statements seems to tell the entire nation that he has a very serious confidence level in being part of a new Government after the election. Essentially, we have been treated to post-election plans in the pre-election season. Wrestling with this issue of transport and putting it in its proper perspective really requires a Government with a mandate from the people. I think it is a little out of sync to be discussing this now,” the APTO head added.
Lee said that preliminary talks had revealed that tour bus owners were averse to the risk associated with transporting students even though, unlike public service vehicle (PSV) operators, they enjoyed duty-free concessions.
“I do note that the ministry seems to be engaged in discussion with tour coach operators. I am unsure how advanced those discussions are, but from what I understand operators have expressed concern about the risk involved in transporting the children in terms of damage to the internal infrastructure of their buses,” he said.
Lashley said last weekend the owners of coaches had approached the ministry expressing a willingness to transport students to help ease the woes caused by the acute shortage of buses at the state-owned Transport Board.
The shortage has led to lengthy delays and has left the travelling public, including school children, stranded for several hours.
“We have to speak to the Ministry of Education first about it, but the Ministry [of Transport] feels safer with the coaches. That is the preferred option,” Lashley said, as he explained that PSV owners had also been given a proposal “and are supposed to get back to us”.
However, Lee told Barbados TODAY he hoped that Lashley either misspoke or was misquoted in the press, as neither of the two minibus associations had received any such proposal from the Ministry of Transport and Works.
“I hope that the minister was misquoted because he was quoted as having sent proposals to us and was awaiting a response from us. We are yet to receive any correspondence from the Ministry of Transport and Works in a relation to a solution where the transportation of school children is concerned,” Lee stressed.