The operating hours of the water taxi service plying the Berbice River have been curtailed in a bid to reduce the effect of their operations on minibus operators that ferry persons across the bridge.
On Thursday, incensed hire car drivers picketed the Transport and Harbours Department at New Amsterdam to protest a decision by the Ministry of Public Infrastructure to reduce the number of hours operated by public water taxis crossing the Berbice River.
A year ago, the water taxis were deployed to transport commuters across the Berbice River from New Amsterdam to Rosignol and back.
A notice placed at the New Amsterdam ferry stelling was the only source of information the general public got on the decision to change the schedule. The notice indicated that water taxis would be available from Mondays to Fridays, from 6am to 9.30am and from 2.30pm to 5pm. It also stated that boats would no longer be available on weekends or holidays.
However, an official of the ministry told Stabroek News that the change was done to facilitate the bus drivers who had complained that the operation of the water taxi service was putting them out of work.
Earlier in the year, members of the Berbice River Bridge Minibus Association met with Public Infrastructure Ministers David Patterson and Annette Ferguson and they voiced their concerns about the impact of the water taxi service on their livelihoods.
During the meeting, President of the association Dennis Chesney indicated that the bus drivers were “under serious pressure” since the introduction of the water taxis, which reduced the need for the buses.
One of the proposals that was floated at the meeting between the ministers and the association was reducing the hours of operation for the water taxis and the removal of the service on weekends. In regards to the reduction of hours, the association suggested a new schedule of 6am to 9am and 3pm to 5pm. These hours, the association said, would cater for schoolchildren and workers who travel during weekdays.
For commuters and hire car drivers plying the stelling route, the reduced hours came as a shock. They had grown accustomed to the water taxis transporting commuters across the Berbice River between 6am and 5pm, including on weekends and holidays.
Hire car drivers, who ply the stelling route, were not too happy about the change as their income is directly reliant on commuters utilising the boat service.
With placards in hand, the drivers on Thursday withstood the scorching sun to publicly voice their criticism of what they termed a “closed door decision.” Some of the placards read: ‘Why deprive the less fortunate of this service?’, ‘We need 6am to 6pm service’ and ‘We need weekend service.’
“We need it full time for everybody. A lot of people got to come to New Amsterdam and go to the Corentyne and other parts of Berbice and they use this boat,” declared Anzelle Bristol, reacting to the news on Thursday. Considering what the change would mean to his income, the hire car driver said, “We don’t want the boat to work in-between hours.
The boat must work full time for everybody.” Bristol believes the change to be illogical and dictatorial. “We don’t need anybody to dictate anybody. Everybody must have a free mind and a fair choice to go with what they want,” he opined.
Another driver, Troy Fraser, questioned whether if this was the better life he was promised when he voted for change. “Why closing off the service when we are talking about a better life in Berbice? Why deprive us in Berbice? The government is talking about the 3Bs [Buses, Boats and Bicycles] programme. Is this the way the 3Bs programme will be? Part time? You can’t be taking the boat away from us,” he said.
Taxi driver Romeo Panday questioned “why is it [government] giving $33M to the Berbice Bridge Company and the minibuses still taking $300 to cross? Give the $33M to Transport and Harbours and the poor people will enjoy the lil benefit.” He noted that “it was a happy time when they give us back the boat, so the children and poor people could cross” but added that only a gloomy future lies ahead if the change is permanent.
Meanwhile, many commuters were only made aware of the change in the operation times for the water taxis after arriving at the stelling and they had to be re-routed to the #56 bus park.
Pensioner Charles Benjamin, who had travelled from Lovely Lass, West Coast Berbice, to New Amsterdam for shopping, was so shocked by the decision that he was at a loss for words. “I can’t really handle what they doing; this is shocking, this is so shocking man….especially when you see you ain’t fiscally nice right now. I do hope they reconsider their decision,” he said.