Minister of Transport catches Bus to Belmopan Print E-mail
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Thursday, 12 July 2012 00:00

Hon. Edmund Castro on the busThe transportation system of a country is not only a convenience for commuters to move back and forth within the said country, it is also a key factor that contributes to the country’s development at all levels. Belize’s transportation system has been the Achilles Heel of more than one administration. It was the reason why in the early 2000s there was unrest both in the northern and western parts of Belize. The country was paralyzed and citizens were shot by law enforcement personnel during these unrests. It was the reason why the people of Belize are owed several million dollars by so-called investors, who threw the bus industry into a quagmire.

Those of us who are not so young will remember the days of Batty Bus, Venus and the original Novelo’s Bus companies; and how everything was so much easier back then. Orderly lines of passengers would queue up to board buses to whatever part of the country they were travelling to. There was no pushing, no running towards the bus before it came to a halt, no running to the rear of the bus to enter through the back door, no climbing through the windows all in an effort to acquire a seat inside the bus. Today, there is a circus act at any bus terminal in the country with the circus headquarters in Belize City. It is a dangerous circus a time bomb. It is a wonder that no one has been seriously injured, but it is not an IF, it is a WHEN, someone will be hurt. That is if nothing is done to stop it. Now, the reason why no one had to rush to the buses is because at that time a person, who wanted to travel would go to the ticket booth and purchase a ticket. That ticket had on it the time of travel, the price paid and the seat number. There was no need to rush to the bus!

 While many issues need to be resolved within the bus industry and many have tried to find solutions, it is not an easy task. Books could be written about the problems that exist, what caused them and the ways that these problems have been addressed. Notwithstanding these problems, the current administration has, through commitment and caring, kept the industry going. Although a panacea has not been found, this administration, is committed to finding solutions to the everyday pains experienced by the commuters.

Following in that tradition of caring, the current Minister of State in the Ministry or Works with responsibility of Transport, Honorable Edmund Castro has embarked in a fact finding and familiarization tour of the bus industry. On Monday, July 9th, in a historic move,  Minister Castro went to the old Novelos Bus Terminal on East Collet Canal and boarded a bus en route to Belmopan. This is something that is unheard of a minister of government riding a bus? Well, it happened. Minister Castro then got off at the Round-about on the Western Highway and again got on a bus at Hattieville and headed to Belmopan. There is a saying that goes like this: “who feels it knows it” and that is exactly what Minister Castro went through. He felt it. He heard it. And now he knows it. During his ride on the bus, he heard and documented the complaints of several of the commuters on board. From the loud music that is played inside the bus, the constant breaking down of buses on highways on a daily basis, the consumption of alcohol on the buses to the physical condition of the buses. Upon his arrival in Belmopan, he interacted with the multitude of commuters, who were waiting for their designated buses. At one point, he ordered one of the bus operators to provide the required stand-by bus since there were a lot of people left behind during a scheduled run. “People must not be left standing waiting for more than half hour if clearly there are enough people to fill a bus”, said Minister Castro to the bus operator. He has also taken the hard line that if the operators could not handle the runs that are required of them for whatever reason, “they should get out of the business and let those who can handle it do it”. Tough words but that is sometimes what is required for the improvement of an industry that should have the public whom it serves as its main priority. Bus ‘service’ is what they claim to provide so bus ‘service’ is what the paying public expects.

Minister Castro says that “this exercise will continue and every bus operator will be assessed for eligibility for road service permits which will be issued shortly”. The next trip Minister Castro will make will be to the North of the country and the tour will continue until he has a first-hand knowledge of what it takes to travel via bus to any part of this country. The most immediate action that will be taken is the implementation of a ticket system expected to kick in by the end of July. This is expected to eliminate the rushing into the buses and the pushing that occurs when people want to get into the buses to get a seat. The enforcement to curb the problem of standees will be stepped up and other infractions by bus operators will be addressed. Minister Castro is committed to restore commuters’ confidence in the bus industry, which should provide safe and reliable ‘service’ to the public. There is no doubt that under the stewardship of  Minister Edmund Castro, we will see a transportation system which we can all be proud of.