By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
JITNEY drivers yesterday put Bahamians on notice that they plan to withdraw their services as early as this week Wednesday, telling Tribune Business: “Enough is enough”.
Frederick Farrington, president of the Bahamas Unified Bus Drivers Union, told Tribune Business: “The union would like to inform the travelling public, those who utilise the public busing system, that we will withdraw services this week and we truly apologise for that. This is truly the last step the union wanted to take.
“We gave the minister of transport [Renward Wells] one month’s notice. July 1 was the deadline and we have heard nothing. I don’t want to say the day but we will withdraw services. There are 330 drivers and 23 routes. On each route we’re looking to withdraw 90 percent of drivers. We’re not going to take every one off but 90 percent.”
While Mr Farrington would not reveal the exact day jitney drivers plan to take strike action, Tribune Business understands it could come as early as Wednesday. The drivers’ main grievances are their long-standing demands for a fare increase; a lack of proper restroom facilities for male and female jitney drivers; an insufficient number of bus stops; and a lack of adequate bus stop shelters for passengers across New Providence.
“We want our concerns to be addressed. We want to be taken seriously. November will make 11 years since jitney drivers got an increase. Enough is enough,” said Mr Farrington. Last month, he and Wesley Ferguson, president of the 1,100-strong Bahamas Taxicab Union, said they had joined forces in threatening a massive shutdown if government does not take their concerns seriously.
Mr Ferguson, when contacted by Tribune Business yesterday, said he was aware that jitney drivers planned to take action but had been unable to mobilise in the same way as he was out of the country.
Mr Farrington, meanwhile, also took aim at the unified public transportation pilot project, claiming it was “nothing new to the industry”. He added: “They are talking about working a 14-hour shift from 6am to 8pm. You have five buses on a route and are confined to that route without breaks, restroom breaks or lunch breaks. It’s not a solution to the system; curb this rat race within the industry.”
Mr Wells announced during his 2019-2020 budget contribution in the House of Assembly last month that the Cabinet had agreed in principle to launch a unified public transportation pilot project for route 17, via the United Public Transportation Company, in late June.
He said: “The public transit service will operate along the fixed route according to a pre-determined schedule. The service will be provided by modern, clean buses, and users will board buses at designated bus stops or at other locations as directed by the ministry along the route.
“The service will operate seven days a week from 6am to 8pm, with buses operating every 15 minutes. Five buses are projected to operate this service based on either a 60-minute or 75-minute round-trip time.
“A fare will be charged for all trips taken on the transit service. The fare structure is applicable to each one-way trip and applies to all customers. All fares are by exact change, cash, on a ‘pay as you enter’ basis. Fares must be deposited by the customer into a fare-box on the bus. Bus drivers may not handle or deposit fares on behalf of customers except when the customer is unable to do so due to a disability,” Mr Wells added.
“My ministry will reserve the right to alter the fare levels, fare structure, to introduce zones and to offer fare reductions or to introduce alternate fare payment methods (tickets or passes) as it deems appropriate.”
But Mr Farrington said yesterday: “You have 330 buses. You can have 115 work the day shift and have more than enough time to space themselves out and make money. The others can work the night shift. The Government chooses not to listen to the union but paid consultants.”
Attempts to reach Mr Wells were unsuccessful up to press time.