BBA members want secured bus run permits for their fleets after reports that the new bus line, Floralia Bus Company, has been allowed to engage in cherry-picking of runs.
BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Sept. 15, 2022
This afternoon the Belize Bus Association (BBA) held a press conference to inform the public of developments in the transport industry that are a source of major concern –foremost of which is purported approval of more bus run permits for a recently formed bus company, Floralia, which many operators believe is receiving preferential treatment from the Transport Department. The company, which had initially been authorized to do runs in the southern part of the country, has reportedly now received permits to carry out runs in the north and west of the country, but longstanding operators have pointed out that Floralia has been in essence “jumping in line” and taking passengers that would otherwise be transported by the bus lines that have worked for years to establish the runs in those areas of the country.
In December 2021, Floralia commenced its busing operation after having received approval to carry out three runs in the south of the country — which had prompted a loud outcry from bus operators in southern Belize. President of the Belize Bus Association, Thomas Shaw, told local media that during conversations he had had with the purported principals of Floralia, they had indicated that they would not seek any additional runs. But letters from the bus lines to the Minister of Transport and the Transport Department have indicated that the operators know otherwise –and are pointing to a state of affairs that could result in a financial/operational death blow for those operators already struggling to upgrade their fleets.
“The Northern route is saturated at this time, and the application of Floralia from San Ignacio to Corozal, and making it stop in Belize City will affect my 4:45 p.m. workers run. Morales Transport is asking the Transport Board to re-consider Floralia’s application, since it will strongly affect an established run,” stated a letter from Elma Morales, owner of Morales Transport.
A letter from Westline’s general manager, Usbaldo Castillo states, “As mentioned in meetings held on Monday, August 29th in Belmopan and September 2nd, 2022 in Belize City between the Belize Bus Association (BBA) members and the Belize Department of Transport senior officials, we, all the bus operators in attendance, verbally disagreed with the consideration for approval of Floralia’s application submitted to the Belize Department of Transport.”
“By allowing Floralia Bus Co. to run on the intended time as per the application submitted, that would be financially detrimental to the current bus operators,” Westline’s letter continued.
And while the president of the BBA says they are not opposed in principle to competition, nor to the added comfort offered to Belizean travelers/commuters by the new bus line, they are concerned about the financial security of longtime operators who have worked for years to establish their routes. Most of those five major operators are currently in the process of upgrading their fleet of buses, in compliance with the demands of the Ministry of Transport. Shaw says the approval of additional Floralia runs will make the possibility of doing so even more difficult.
“We as an association will not stand up to see no newcomer come into the industry and infringe on the well-being of our existing operators, and as I said, we are here today to object,” Shaw said.
“Whenever a person apply for a run, it has to be gazetted three consecutive times. Well, this one has been gazetted, but from before it was even gazetted we have been objecting to it, and we are still – because the permit has been deferred until next month – so we are here to make a stand and to say, ‘Minister, please reconsider bringing in a newcomer,” Shaw went on to state.
He noted that there are a number of runs that are not being serviced, and pointed out that those are the ones toward which Floralia should be directing its focus instead of “cherrypicking” runs that already exist.
“Remember, the first bus will be leaving out of Benque Viejo at 4 o’clock. Now, Silva’s run commences at 2:30 in the morning, all the way to 4:45, so you are inserting this operator right in front of Silva’s bus. Then, whenever it gets to Belmopan, remember we have buses coming from the south — whenever you get into Belize City, you have the Tillett, you have other bus company, you have BBOC that is going to the north. On the return, it’s the same thing, you are inserting an operator into a slot where there is no space, and you are trying to make space for them, but all you are doing, you are compounding the problems. “ Shaw said.
Ultimately, the Department of Transport would be responsible for any disruption or reallocation of runs, and Secretary of the Belize Bus Association, Ewart Metzgen, noted that their objections to the proposed Floralia runs are linked directly to the department’s request for an upgrade in buses.
“Why we truly the object to the Floralia runs is because, in order for us to get these new buses that they want, the existing runs that we have, the monies that we make off those runs, we have to show those; we have to show our figures to the bank. Now, if Floralia da wa newcomer now, and di time weh they di get wan deh 15 minutes ahead of you, in front of you, and before they come, that particular bus run weh you mi done have your paper sent out fi ker inna the bank for showing them, ‘Okay, I mek $800 offa this one run, fi show this da how come I could pay for my loan’, now you put Floralia 15, 20 minutes front ah me, nuh care weh they wa say, ih nuh wa affect deh da wa different service, you wa di affect da man. So da revenue wah cut from 800 dollars to four, five hundred dollars. Now this is the basis why we are objecting, because they want we to improve, but they do strangle we inna wa way.” Metzgen said.
He went on to mention that the operational manager from the Department of Transport gave Floralia approval to allow standees on the bus coming out of Dangriga.
Metzgen then stated that for it to be feasible for bus operators to carry out an upgrade of their fleet, they would need to get 10-year permits for the fleet of their buses. As for Floralia, they would have to take the runs that are not currently being serviced by the established operators, since the system, according to the operators, is already saturated.
Metzgen accused the Department of Transport of creating this problem in the industry.
“Before they gone and put dey foot inna deh mouth, now they di consult with we after all this happens, they shoulda mi come to we inna the first place before weh we deh part we deh, and maybe the thing mi wa different, but we di try fix something, and the problem we di try fix da wa problem weh they create,” Metzgen said.
For now, the BBA is calling on the Department of Transport to cease the issuance of new permits until a study is conducted of the runs currently approved across the country.