Another strike by Public Service Vehicle (PSV) operators when school re-opens next week could have a crippling effect on the country’s already unstable transportation system with a possibility that less than adequate number of state-owned Transport Board buses will be available for use.
In fact, Transport Board Chairman, Gregory Nicholls told Barbados TODAY that they were grappling with an unpredictable fleet of buses, many crippled by old age. He indicated that in recent times the fleet was reduced to fewer than 75 buses, as he expressed hope that the ongoing impasse between PSV operators and the Ministry of Transport and Works could be resolved soon.
PSV operators on Wednesday pulled their vehicles off the road in protest of a number of issues affecting them, the latest of which is a requirement by the Barbados Transport Authority that all PSV operators wear a new uniform bearing the authority’s logo. They have threatened that if there is no satisfactory resolution to their grievances come Monday or Tuesday, Barbados could really feel the pinch with stepped up action.
Today, the Transport Board chairman said “If the PSV’s are having challenges and they pull their services off the road, the disruption would naturally affect not only operations at the transport board by putting pressure on us, but would also affect people being able to move around the country,” he said.
At the beginning of the school year last August, Minister of Transport and Works, William Duguid revealed that there would be 105 buses on the road. At the time, he said 179 buses on the road was the ideal number.
While noting that he did not have all the facts relating to the PSV impasse, chairman Nicholls broadly addressed it by stating a major focus of local transport stakeholders over the next two years is “the integration of a well regulated sector in transport as a national utility service.
“The sector has been too unregulated, too uncoordinated and too disjointed. What we both [Transport Board and PSV’S] do is a very important service . . . a utility that we provide for the people of Barbados and without the provision of that service, a lot of business and economic activity, family life and social activity would come to a halt.
“We need to have rules and regulations; we need to follow the rules and regulations, there needs to be realistic and reasonable penalties for breaches of these regulations and discipline on the road, both by the PSV’s and the Transport Board,” he said while adding that “We too will be asking our drivers to commit to a higher standard of service.”
In addition, Nicholls said there was no escaping the fact that Transport Board’s fleet, with over 20-year-old buses, was struggling.
“We have an aged fleet and the reliability of that fleet is not something that you can predict. It’s impossible for me to say with any degree of accuracy, how reliable this fleet would be during the course of the next three, four, five months,” said Nicholls, while adding there were a number of maintenance related rules which had not been adhered to for over a decade.
“Traditionally, you are supposed to renew your mass transit fleet every ten years, either by replacing the fleet or through a massive overhaul of the coaches with new engines, new transmissions, etcetera.”
While he was in no position to definitively say how many buses would be on the road come Monday, he said four of five recently refurbished buses passed inspection and were ready for the road.
In addition, Nicholls said there was progress being made with a number of other buses in need of critical parts.
“We have some busses in which we are having new transmissions installed. Transmissions that were imported from the US a couple months ago have just arrived and are being installed so I hope at the end of the day to be able to know, but it is a little fluid at this point,” he said while noting that the reliability of the fleet over the short and medium term was critical, before government moved forward with plans to acquire new electric buses at the end of the year. [email protected]