The transportation sector is one of the biggest employment sectors in Guyana employing directly or indirectly several thousand persons as drivers, conductors, mechanics, upholsterers, wash-bay attendants, gas station attendants, tint shop personnel, vulcanizers, number-plate craftsman, auto and spare parts store salespersons, auto electricians, road repairers – and the list goes on – yet it is the most unregulated sector.
The problems associated with this sector, especially the minibus and hire-car drivers include drinking and driving under the influence. Alcohol is available cheap at parks and shops throughout Guyana. One wonders how often the breathalyzer test is administered and where? More often than not drivers can be seen imbibing at parks especially in the afternoons and on weekends and they often ‘lime’ and occupy parking space. There are too many beer carts close by parking areas which encourages drivers as well as passengers to grab an alcoholic beverage. The problem is, why are these carts allowed to sell inside these parks?
Then there is overloading and overcharging. No price control structure is published by the agencies monitoring public transportation.
Speeding: the last critical accident was in Homestretch Avenue. Has anyone stopped to think about the reasons for speeding? Operators are forced to meet targets for the owners, or drivers are under the influence. Accidents can be caused too by a faulty vehicle which passes the fitness test because a bribe has been paid, or which has smooth tyres.
There is inadequate parking for minibuses and hire-cars because vendors occupy parking spaces and refuse to move elsewhere. In addition, parks are not fully utilized in the right way. Parks also lack basic facilities such as a place to get water to do a quick tidying of vehicles while waiting; no garbage disposal, a lack of lighting, and a lack of a public conveniences.
The lack of a police presence in the parks means commuters and drivers suffer ‘eyepass’ due to other drivers blocking active driveways, or buses stopping to ‘juggle’ passengers, etc.
Many police officers are the owners of minibuses and taxis which sometimes break the law. In addition, some vehicle owners will pay to get fitness. If one travels on some minibus routes one will find that they have back seats which are too high, they lack proper ventilation, have tinted glass, torn seats, a shabby dashboard and broken doors. Are these people not making money? Are there no standards for vehicles; what are the authorities doing?
There is no code of conduct for drivers and conductors. They curse, abuse passengers, disrespect elderly people, litter parks, abuse alcohol and smoke while on the job. Some of them keep themselves untidily, and are not shaved, wear short pants, rubber slippers, head cloths and armless vests.
Bribery is a problem.
It is intolerable to have to listen to some of the songs that are played in these vehicles. Songs today emanate mostly from Jamaica and will often have the most debasing lyrics.
There are possible steps that the authorities could take. They could clear the parks of beer carts and create a common area for them to sell. They should hurry up and put the traffic wardens in place with the responsibility of ridding the park of schoolchildren after work and checking buses for overloading. Also, the seats of minibuses should be redesigned so they have fifteen single seats fitted with belts to prevent overloading. The government could cushion some of the costs of importing the materials; this would create employment for welders and the technical schools, as well as making openings for new jobs.
There should be more TV call-in programmes, and the police should be able to speak to pedestrians about the way they stand on the road, how they use pedestrian crossings, walking at night, riding and how far they should stand from a corner. Passengers should be told not to disturb others in a minibus with loud music on their cell phones, and they should have a programme for drivers too. Many drivers need to be educated too about stopping close to corners. The police need to pull up people when they lapse.
There should be more speed humps and officers with speed guns as well as more mobile traffic units.
Vendors with clothes stalls, etc, who park in spaces designated for minibuses and cars should be removed, and the police should monitor the situation daily. They need mobile units in the parks to ensure order and decency.
Where bribery is concerned, there should be a proper ticket book system that is pre-numbered so tickets can be issued for the various offences. The fines for the offence of overloading should be reduced to discourage bribe-taking, and there should be an offences log for vehicles and operators so action can be taken in the future.
There should be a total ban on music in minibuses, and music lovers should carry their own headphones which would create a new wave of employment for people selling and repairing electronic gadgets. People should also be prosecuted for disturbing others in minibuses; calm and peace should be maintained while travelling.
I would only hope that the relevant authorities responsible for public transport, traffic, local government can swiftly implement some rules and make some urgent changes especially in respect of music, vending, the encroachment on parks, bribery, fitness checks and selling alcohol in parks. They should also do a proper study of the public transport system in Guyana.