With operators all along the coast protesting the rise in fuel prices and parking their buses, the Georgetown-based United Minibus Union (UMU) is expected to submit to the Ministry of Business a proposal containing a new fare structure and an outline of operational expenses.
Once reviewed by the ministry it could see the commencement of negotiations between the two parties.
Eon Andrews, Head of the Union yesterday described a meeting with the ministry as an act of good faith since they were afforded an opportunity to discuss the concerns raised by frustrated bus operators and the way forward.
Coming out the meeting, he said, was an agreement to have the union draft and submit a proposal to the ministry outlining the recommended fare structures and the current operational expenses that operators face.
The aim is for the proposal to be completed and submitted to the Ministry of Business, for review by the Minister, by the end of this week, at the very latest.
Andrews told Stabroek News that once the review is completed, the UMU will be ready to negotiate on behalf of those it represents. He further explained that the union had submitted something similar in 2014, where there were asked to outline operational expenses faced by operators, however, he feels that it is time that such a document be updated to reflect current costs, which includes the ban on used tyres and increasing fuel prices.
But even as the union has managed to engage the ministry, bus operators continue to voice their dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs, mainly through protest actions.
Stabroek News has reported over the past week on protests staged by operators in various zones, who have questioned the government’s lack of action to alleviate the extra burden placed on them by the steady increases in fuel prices, while threatening to increase the fares.
Yesterday was no different as operators on the Essequibo Coast came out to voice their concerns over the fuel prices and other factors which they say warrant an increase in fares.
It was noted, however, that the operators yesterday met officials from the Regional Democratic Council (RDC) of Region Two with whom they shared their concerns relating to the increases in fuel prices which they say is forcing an increase in fares; the need to review the fare structure, the deterioration of the Essequibo Public Road and the presence of stray animals on the roadways, among other things.
Chairman of the RDC Devanand Ramdatt in an invited comment told Stabroek News that what was discussed at the meeting will be followed up with the respective ministries. He further noted that a team from the Essequibo Minibus and Hire Car Association will meet with him later this week to follow up on the key issues raised.
Meanwhile, over in West Berbice, operators yesterday clashed over strike action taken
over the recent hike in fuel prices through the country.
Stabroek News understands that the strike action has left the bus operators divided in Region Five, since some believe that striking will leave them with an even bigger loss, rather than paying the increased fuel price.
Based on observations made yesterday morning, almost 70 bus operators took up positions in front of the Region Five Democratic Council office, calling for the immediate intervention by the authorities to either lower the fuel prices or raise the fares paid by passengers.
One driver said, “The price na raise in years, tyre price gone up, road service gone up, fuel a gone up, everything gone up and the fare deh one place”.
Another driver, Mark Graham yesterday explained to Stabroek News that they need the authorities to understand exactly how the hike in the fuel prices are affecting drivers.
“This thing is affecting our lives, we can’t afford to take care of our families, we na work enough”. He added, “We are trying to protest peaceful, we need them to do something now”, he said.
According to the man, they are also working on registering an association for the minibuses which ply the Rosignol to Georgetown route.
“We do not have a [Route] 50 minibus association, we are trying to form it, and we already send letters to the traffic chief in B and A division and the ministries”.
Additionally Graham noted, “We are not seeing the support we are looking for, buses are still operating from Rosignol to Georgetown and some short drop buses, this is quarter the population of the buses, but this is necessary right now, we have no other alternative”.
Graham and other drivers noted that presently, “We paying $231 per liter [for gas], we need the government to use the same formula that they use to use years ago and reduce the gas price”.
Another driver, Ryan Persaud, 29, said the fuel price hikes have left him in a state of frustration, “The gas is so high, me get two children going to school, me can’t afford to pay so much for gas, the money we earning we can’t afford that.”
According to Persaud, despite his circumstances he believes a strike is what will bring action and betterment for all drivers.
However, several other drivers in West Coast Berbice do not feel the same way, as they continued to ply their trade yesterday.
One driver said, “We go strike who go feed me children them, yes the price hard on everybody but we got to work, how long we go strike for and nobody na do nothing to help we”.
Another driver told Stabroek News, “We can’t stop work, the gas price high right now but we got to work girl”.
Meanwhile, one bus driver who was working his regular route accused the striking drivers of puncturing one of his tyres yesterday.
Nevertheless, those on strike stressed that they are hoping to receive support from more drivers as they plan to continue striking until either the fuel prices are lowered or the fares are raised.
Regional Chairman of Region Five, Vickchand Ramphal yesterday again called on the government to intervene immediately, since the hikes in the fuel prices are having a tremendous effect on the lives of drivers. (Mariah Lall and Bebi Oosman)