Parents and schoolchildren yesterday picketed at the Rosignol Stelling to highlight their disapproval over the removal of the pontoon which was replaced with a speedboat.
The pontoon, MB Sandaka plied the Rosignol/New Amsterdam route, transporting about 300 schoolchildren daily but from Monday it was pulled out of operation reportedly because of engine problems.
Bearing placards, the parents said the situation has affected them a lot because they do not feel comfortable with their children travelling in such a small boat.
Some of the placards read, ‘government unjust to schoolchildren,’ ‘no justice; we will close the bridge,’ `buses for children to cross’ and ‘accident waiting to happen.’
The parents lamented that they wanted the pontoon to be returned immediately because they only paid $200 per month for the contract.
They said they cannot afford the $400 per day cost for their children to cross via the Berbice Bridge.
The Transport & Harbours Department (T&HD) had brought the 26-seater speedboat; ‘Alford C’ which is complete with a shed, to Berbice about two weeks ago and it was taken on a test ride from New Amsterdam to the Rosignol Stelling and back.
Some of the frustrated parents said they have two children attending schools in New Amsterdam (NA) and they were worried about how they would cope.
One woman pointed out that during a minibus strike in Georgetown the government sent out buses in the streets to work. She said that in the same way the bus could be sent to Berbice to facilitate an easy crossing for the children.
Members of the Berbice Chambers had even suggested that the government introduce a “shuttle system” where the buses could turn back in front of the toll station and not have to pay the toll.
The children told Stabroek News that they were shocked when they turned up the stelling on Monday to find out that they would have to cross with the speedboat instead.
Many of the children opted to go across the Berbice Bridge because they were afraid to travel with the speedboat.
The other children did not have money to do that but said they were allowed to use their $200 monthly contract to cross with the speedboat which was equipped with lifejackets.
They were told that they can use the contract up to the end of the month and after that they would have to pay to cross. They were not sure how much it would cost though.
The children noted too that the boat had to make several trips to take everyone across and they would have been late for their end-of-terms exams.
Some of the schoolchildren told this newspaper yesterday morning that they found the speedboat “risky because yesterday the tide wasn’t so high but the boat just keeps shaking up and down and everyone was leaning from one side to the next.”
They said too that they preferred the pontoon because it can accommodate everyone in only one trip and they felt safer travelling in it.
During the protest the stelling gate was opened at around 7 am for the passengers to board for the second trip. There was a commotion when media operatives and the protestors attempted to go in and the security tried to stop them.
Eventually everyone entered to get a glimpse of the boat with some parents commenting that it could easily “capsize and the shed could trap them [passengers] in there.”
Meanwhile, Khemraj Ramjattan, presidential candidate for the Alliance For Change (AFC) who was also present during the protest along with other members told the media that the pontoon went out of operation without any notification.
He learnt that the engine was damaged and that the pontoon was supposed to undergo rehabilitation over the Easter holidays. He said because it was not done the barge has “broken down while school is on.”
He feels that government should come in with an intervention because the children’s end-of-term examinations were being affected. He said the “small boat that the government has provided with a little shed is dangerous…”
He also said that the fishing nets in the river can also pose a risk to the speedboat.