With the Coronavirus threat bearing down on Barbados, having reached closest neighbour St Vincent and the Grenadines, the head of a major public transport association has criticised Government for not sitting down with the industry to devise a plan of action.
Chairman of the Alliance Owners of Public Transport (AOPT) Roy Raphael told Barbados TODAY that despite the fact that private operators carry eight out of ten public transport commuters, they have not been included in the planning for the mitigation of the deadly virus.
Barbados TODAY made several attempts to reach Minister of Transport and Works Dr William Duguid to ascertain whether there was a plan in place for public transport. Calls to the Minister went unanswered.
Raphael declared: It really has been very worrying to us as a body because too often when discussions of this nature start, we are always left in the background.
“This continues to be the case even though we move 80 per cent of the travelling public.
“We are always the last to be part of these types of discussions.”
He accused Government of failing to learn from the confusion created in public transport during preparations last year for the passage of Hurricane Dorian. He reminded the Mia Mottley administration that because operators were not involved in the formulation of a shutdown policy relating to transport, many operators were off the road by 3 p.m., leaving commuters stranded.
The AOPT leader said: “When we had that hurricane coming, I went on record stating that we were not part of the discussion with regards to the shutdown policy and I got a lot of criticism for it.
“At the end of the day the operators were confused about the shutdown time for transport and passengers were left to find their own way home.
“So going forward I would like to see a representative of the industry involved in discussions of this nature.
Raphael contended that the industry should have been represented at the meeting of the Social Partnership earlier this week, during which the mitigation of the impact of the COVID-19 was the main focus.
He added: “Even though we have been left out so far, there is still time and Government can put together a special committee to address these issues.
“We have a very important role to play in containing the spread of this disease, but we need to co-ordinate our efforts with the relevant authorities.”
But the AOPT head stressed that the operators were not prepared to wait on Government to bring them to the discussion table on the threat of the virus. He told Barbados TODAY that if the worse should happen, all PSV associations, including route taxis and taxis, have already begun to devise measures to minimize any spread on buses.
Raphael explained: “We have taken it upon ourselves to come up with our own guidelines and we have begun the process of educating our members.
“A lot of our operators deal with passengers coming off the cruise ships and some of these passengers take the ZR’s as well.
“Government has given the all-clear for these persons to come but some of them may have flu-like symptoms while in our vehicles, so we have to protect ourselves. Right now, education is the key and our operators are coming up with plans such as sanitizing handrails regularly and door handles.
“We are also asking members of the public who are sick to stay at home, so as to avoid any kind of spread on the buses.”