Features — 03 September 2013 — by Kareem Clarke

Councilor unapologetic; says the bus drivers knew about the changes over a year ago

Traffic in Belize City has become increasingly hectic, largely due to the re-opening of schools this morning. This causes commuters who use the city buses to have to wait for long periods before they are able to catch a bus. The situation was made even more time-consuming for some commuters in the city today, as five city buses were reportedly taken off their regular runs and impounded by the Traffic Department.

Bus driver, Dexter Hemmans, told KREM News that this morning, traffic officers came and told them that they needed to go to Mr. Jenkins’ office (Jenkins is the head of the Traffic Department).

Hemmans said that when he went there, he was told by Jenkins that his bus could not run because it is a 48-seater, and only 30-seaters and smaller buses were permitted to run.

Hemmans said that he explained to Jenkins that he (Hemmans) has obligations he has to deal with, like loan payments. He said Jenkins then told him that that was not the concern of the Traffic Department and that the bottom line was that his bus couldn’t run.

The bus driver explained that in the mornings, all the small buses are usually filled with commuters and that’s where the bigger buses come in handy. He indicated that that was the case this morning, and when he went to pick up his passengers, they were grateful that the bus came because they had been waiting for a long time for a bus. He went on to say that he doesn’t see what difference preventing the larger buses from running could make, because there are 40-foot containers that use the city’s street as well.

Hemmans said that his bus service caters to lower-income individuals by sometimes charging a lower bus fee, but if he gets a smaller bus, he will have to charge all the passengers the same $1.00 bus fee. He said that the Traffic Department stated that they had been sending letters to his superiors since 2012, warning them that they needed to downsize their buses.

He mentioned that the reason he had recently taken out a loan was to buy the bus; now they are telling him that he needs to park his bus, so he doesn’t know how he will service his loan because he might not be able to generate enough revenue to cover his bills if he only runs his bus in the morning and evening, as they’re being instructed to do.

Hemmans said that he would like to meet with Mayor Darrell Bradley to ask him if he could reconsider the decision that the City Council made because he doesn’t believe that they (the bus operators) are doing anything wrong.

KREM News also spoke with Alifa Elrington-Hyde, who is the City Councilor with responsibility for traffic, and she replied that the buses were taken off the streets after the school rush because they have not been in conformity with the policies and procedures of the City Council. She said that since she has been the councilor with responsibility for traffic, she has met with the bus operators several times – at least 4 times.

One of the things she said that they spoke about was the need for the buses to be color-coded and that the size of the buses would have to be reduced – which is one reason they took the big buses off the streets.

Elrington-Hyde said that she indicated to the traffic manager last week that he needed to inform the bus operators—with the exception of Haylock’s Bus Service, which picks up passengers from Belama. She said that it had been conveyed to the bus operators since August of last year that the buses that run in the city would have to be reduced in size by today, Monday.

They were given until January of this year to comply, since they complained that they needed time to get new, smaller buses, she said.

The councilor said that they are not trying to put anybody out of business, but people need to work with them. She explained that the policy was not enforced in January because of lack of manpower, and due to the street works being done in the city, which required traffic officers to direct the flow of traffic. She went on to say that the drivers were reminded last week that they needed to reduce the size of their buses this week.

Elrington-Hyde went on to reiterate that the bus operators had already met with her, as well as the mayor and the traffic manager, and also repeated that bus operators were given ample opportunity to do what they needed to do.

The councilor said that she is always ready to meet with the bus operators, but stressed that they need to come to the table with something concrete, not just with the request to change a policy that they’ve known about for over a year.

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