Concerned about the safety of the citizenry given the “carnage” wrought by minibuses, a group of re-migrants are currently exploring the possibility of re-introducing a big bus service.
Re-migrant businessman, Robert Millington, says he is hoping to change the culture of public transportation for the better as he, along with two other members of the diaspora, are working towards launching a Metro Bus service next year.
Millington, who spoke with Stabroek News yesterday during an exclusive interview, related that he moved back to Guyana in 2013, after migrating at age 13 from Linden. He noted that he spent approximately 24 years living in the United States of America and being part of the US Navy.
Last November, Millington opened a business in Eccles, East Bank Demerara, and has since been planning, along with two other friends, the possibility of starting their own Metro Bus service that will initially serve five routes – Georgetown to Timehri, Mahaica, Wales, Parika and Linden.
“I have some other friends in the diaspora that want to come home and this is the idea they came up with and for now I am the public face right now,” Millington said.
He explained that the idea was initially conceived after he and his two partners were made privy to news on Facebook of Guyana and the current state of the public transportation sector.
“Folks in the diaspora and all get their news from Facebook which is unfortunately often [skewed] in a negative way and that kind of gives the sense to these folks over there that there is carnage on the streets with regards to buses, which might be true. I don’t have the data for that but it might be true. So, there’s carnage on the streets and some of these guys grew up when they had the big buses and they never felt fear as the travellers do now and that really is the genesis for it,” Millington said, while emphasising that the minibus drivers and operators that currently work don’t seem to understand that they have a standard that they need to upkeep and often act as if they do not care about their passengers’ safety.
“…It’s a money thing but lives are more important and so that’s really the genesis of it and we have been discussing it for a year plus,” he added.
While the current transportation sector is already heavily saturated with buses, which United Minibus Union President Eon Andrews has alluded to many times, Millington explained that the Metro Bus service will be different from the conventional buses since they will be using a strict schedule and will also have a strict code of conduct that will have to be followed. He noted that the code of conduct will be modelled in a way that will focus on passenger safety and comfort.
Millington explained that the buses will operate based on a schedule, meaning that even when they are not filled, they will leave the depot at the scheduled time and travel along the designated route, where they will pick up passengers at specific bus stops.
“The minibuses will always be there so if you don’t want to go to the bus stop then you can get into a minibus. But we will have bus stops and we will put them into places that you know folks will congregate. Wherever we have people standing up right now for buses we will make into bus stops so we are not going to reinvent the wheel,” he said.
He related that the buses will be air conditioned and will have speed limiters that will prevent drivers from exceeding the speed limit. He opined that with passengers being assured that the vehicles they are travelling in cannot exceed the speed limit, they will by extension feel safer and more comfortable.
“We are trying to encourage a new culture with public transportation. A lot of people don’t want to travel with them but they don’t have a choice,” he added.
Millington noted that his team is currently in the process of communicating with manufacturers from Brazil, Canada and the United States.
At the starting of their operation, the group intends to procure seven buses; five to work the routes and the other two to act as backup.
The buses will have the capacity to seat approximately 35 persons and facilitate an additional 30 standing. Their sizes will depend on the route being traversed.
Millington explained that the buses will utilise a card system, but added that they will still accept cash and will be working to see whether they can pursue an arrangement to implement GTT’s Mobile Money system.
He indicated that 15 drivers will be hired along with other staff to support the company, and Millington said that he expects to employ over 30 persons when they launch. Of the 30, five will be re-migrants who have experience maintaining the buses. The re-migrants will be supplemented by local staff who they will also train.
The introductory fares will mirror the regular minibus fares at the time of launch and the service will target the same class of people that rely on public transportation to travel.
“We will let them know that the introductory fare will go on for so long and they will know what it will be in the future. It will be the same fare and you can try our service. If you like it, great. We will tell you that in a couple of months it will go up to this and it most likely wouldn’t be more than 20%. If you like it still then we have a new customer. We think that there are enough people who are scared out of their mind every day that is it is going to be successful,” he said.
When questioned about how he hopes to compete with the current public transport system, Millington emphasised that they will have a code of conduct that will be strictly followed that will hopefully make the customers feel more safe and comfortable.
He also explained that they are hoping to procure electric buses that will cut costs significantly on the procurement of fuel.
While there is currently no infrastructure to support electric vehicles in the country, he explained that the charging stations will be procured with the buses and will be set up as part of their terminal.
“It’s just installing the charging stations. I buy a bus, it comes with a charging station at the maintenance facility,” he said, while highlighting that when the time is right they will need all the support they can from the government.
“We need help, government’s help in providing memorandums of understanding with GPL [Guyana Power and Light]. We need help with bringing in backup generators because GPL may not be there every day and yes, we want to take power from GPL,” he said, while squashing any thoughts that the venture would not be feasible given the high cost of electricity.
“…And yes, we consider that a barrier but if I was offering the same crappy service as the buses then we would be oversaturated. However, there is a 180 degree difference between our service and what the minibuses currently offer. I have no intention of putting the minibuses out of business because ours will be scheduled and stopped at certain places,” he added.
While the plan is still in its infancy stage, Millington said that they are hoping to finalise everything by the New Year and launch by “mid-June 2019”. He further stated that they will be making an official announcement by the end of next month.
Millington also highlighted that there is a need for a controlled transportation sector and this was evident by the interest they received after merely creating social media pages. He explained that while they were not ready to go public since they have not finalised the major parts of their plan, they were merely “squatting on the Facebook name Guyana Metrobus”.
“It’s blowing up and this is just on Facebook. This shows that people are interested in this topic and I don’t think anyone has done the necessary research that is needed. They know we need it, they talk about it on Facebook all the time and my business philosophy is: finding a need and filling it,” he added.
When questioned on whether the developing oil and gas sector played a factor in their decision to pursue this venture, Millington said yes. He noted that while persons have started flowing in from the diaspora to do business, more will come after first oil is pumped in 2020.