NASSAU, BAHAMAS —The Bahamas Unified Bus Drivers Union is warning that its protest yesterday could be a prelude to a wider strike if the Davis administration does not soon address its demand for higher bus fares.
Corvell Colebrooke, general secretary of the union, said 110 of 228 bus drivers participated in the protest, which he said caused a 30-minute delay for customers.
The Ministry of Transport and Housing, however, said in a statement that 20 to 25 bus drivers participated in the protest.
“This was a small demonstration,” Colebrooke said.
“We did not want to hurt our customers. We just gave them a little delay. The information I received is that some of them were waiting 20 to 30 minutes longer than they would like.
“Drivers were off at different points during the day. It wasn’t anything heavy. We’re just going to try to see if we can speak with the prime minister to have this problem resolved. The prime minister is not on the island but we’re gonna send a letter to his office and ask for a meeting as quickly as possible. We’ll see by the prime minister’s actions what it is moving forward.”
“The issue is the inflation. The issue is that we cannot pay our bills, we cannot continue with this high price of fuel on the same bus fare from 2008.
“VAT has been brought on us, so it’s now on fuel and on parts and everything we do. You cannot say that I can continue with same fare as in 2008. The taxi cab drivers got four increases over the last several years but you have yet to look at the increase in bus transportation.”
Colebrooke said bus drivers want fares for adults to increase from $1.25 to $2. For seniors, they want an increase from 75 cents to a dollar.
He said 99 percent of bus drivers voted in favor of a strike last week, the results of which the union will seek to get certified from the Department of Labour.
He said discussions with the government began in November last year and have shown little signs of progress.
“We keep seeing that nothing is happening,” he said. “We had November to February, nothing happened. We went to see (Minister Jobeth Coleby-Davis) again in February, she keep telling us summer. Then we meet again she had a meeting with all the drivers, owners, and operations and she said government wants something else from us.”
The ministry said yesterday that officials recently met bus drivers to discuss their concerns.
“The government of The Bahamas understands the concerns of bus drivers and wish to confirm that the request for a fare increase was deferred to allow government to design a temporary relief package,” the ministry said in a statement.
“However, the temporary relief package was rejected by the protesting bus drivers, who have demanded an immediate increase in fares.”
“The government of The Bahamas is committed to acting in the best interest of all stakeholders – balancing the concerns of bus drivers and protecting the interests of the thousands of Bahamians who use public transportation daily.”
Regarding the temporary care package, Colebrooke said a “stipend” will not work. He said drivers feel disrespected and ignored.
“We need proper bus stops put in place as well,” he said. “People complain about us stopping all over the place but in many cases we don’t have proper bus stops down. There are a number of issues that we’re having and we’re tired of talking about these issues so sooner or later a general strike will be called.”