I thought we had left national stand-offs and stalemates behind us in 2018 with the embarrassing and unnecessarily long Grantley Adam’s canteen affair (by the way, what was ever the outcome of that?). For the second time in as many days, the Public Service vehicle (PSV) operators downed their tools in frustration at not being heard.
The operators have a number of concerns which they have tried in various ways to bring to the attention of successive governments. The tension in this particular instance stems from the behaviour of many PSV operators seemingly with the sanction of owners. The stance of the government, as articulated by the Prime Minister recently seems to be that until and unless there are major clean-ups in the sector there will be no serious discussions.
As a mother of teenagers I understand the frustration with the PSV sector, but exactly because I am mother, I also understand that hard lines and demands until and unless will not rectify this situation. When a teenaged male child is behaving badly, perhaps a time out on the patio can defray tension and allow all involved to breathe and regroup. However, I would be crossing entirely another line if I left said male child on the patio overnight or deprived him of food.
So to bring the example to the PSV sector. I am in full agreement with making the PSV operators curb their reckless and frustrating practices on the road, but to signal to PSV interests that they will not be heard around the table of reason until or unless their behaviour changes is to confuse bad behaviour with deprivation of bread and butter. As much as we do not want to hear it, the punishment is too harsh for the crime.
The PSV interests alone did not create the deep and endemic dysfunction associated with the sector. For years, because of who owned the vans, we have chosen to turn a blind eye to the ills in the sector. We have allowed the problem to mushroom while we had half-witted conversations about what needed to be done. What is now 30 years hence cannot be fixed by a uniform – whether it is created or not.
Further, we are missing a much more critical and complicated social problem that plagues the PSV sector. Since the sector is one of the very few that needs certification or police clearance, it is one that attracts a very specific demographic of the Barbadian population as its employees. The owners of PSV vehicles actually run counselling services, adult day care. In trying to turn a profit on their business they are forced to manage some rather difficult individuals.
Some of their employees are the ones we skittle out of school. Sometimes they are the children of the vulnerable and undercapitalized areas in Barbados. Are we really so surprised that this sector is as problematic as it is?
If we understand the sector for what it is, it becomes easier to see what the staff in the Transport Authority should look like. It is easier to create a set of systems and incentives that the sector can respond to. It is also clear to understand that left unchecked we will end up with an overspill of dysfunction within a sector that is vulnerable and incapable of empowerment without facilitation.
Frankly, if there is one thing we can say about this sector from a positive standpoint is that thankfully, somehow, as many scrapes and near misses they continue to have, they are drivers! Based on the risks they take and the sheer volume of hours they drive, had we not had some, mainly young male drivers, we would have lost several more lives in public transport in Barbados. That is theirs and we must give it to them.
Not having personal transport is a burden in itself. I hope that by the time you are finished reading my take on this brewing problem that we have allowed reason and measure to prevail and that we are moving toward a mature and sensible solution to this problem as opposed to another embarrassing national mushrooming of a simple variance.
(Marsha Hinds is public relations officer of the National Organization of Women. Email: email@example.com)