By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
Jitney drivers yesterday blasted the government's decision to abruptly close the industry within weeks of its restart as "utter madness", with police officers ordering passengers out of vehicles.
However, Wesley Ferguson, the Bahamas Taxi Cab Union's president, said he was able to defeat efforts to also shut his members down after speaking to newly-elected transport minister, Senator Dion Foulkes.
This left jitney drivers as the only ones fuming over the government's last-minute decision to shut the sector down via its Emergency Powers (COVID-19 Pandemic) (No.3) Order 2020, which was only released to the industry late on Monday night.
Harrison Moxey, the United Public Transportation Company's (UPTC) president, told Tribune Business: "They shut down everything. A new order came out Monday night that bars all bars, jet-skis and buses and taxis. The police came out and just sent the buses off of the road. They just shut everything down.
"The prime minister gave a press conference last Friday and this was not in it. This is something that was dated for July 27, but it came out Monday night and here we go again. The suffering starts."
The latest order represents a major u-turn from the initial version released last week. That allowed both taxis and "private and public bus services" to continue operating provided that the latter restricted capacity to a maximum 50 percent to enforce COVID-19 social distancing protocols.
However, the revised Order unveiled on Monday night strips out this language completely. It merely says: "No person shall offer for hire or seek to travel on any public bus transportation." No mention is made of taxis.
Mr Ferguson yesterday confirmed that the police had initially tried to bar taxi drivers from the roads, but his call to Senator Foulkes resolved the matter. He said taxis are allowed to operate but only within the confines of the 5am to 7pm curfew period.
Mr Moxey, meanwhile, for the jitney drivers said: "This is utter madness. Folks were preparing to get back into business. We are spending money. But with uncertainty, only to get yanked off, you don't know how the prime minister is working us, what his nightmares are.
"This is ridiculous and it is not just us. We are already operating at a loss because they didn't give us the rate increase. We are just trying to stay afloat and now this? We are doing everything as far as the protocols are concerned, and to not be a proponent of the spread of the virus.
"Everything they asked, we did. The people we dropped to work in the morning we can't pick up in the evening. They don't even know the buses have been pulled off of the road yesterday," he added.
"This is a serious thing; you can't be shooting from the hip. This is a whole nation you are governing. You can't have too much uncertainty. The future is too uncertain, because what you are bordering on is people losing out. That's the sad thing."
Mr Moxey continued: "They didn't send these new orders to us; they didn't have any consultation with us. They sent it out to the police. The things that are affecting us, they don't tell us; we find out just like everybody else.
"This is disrespectful; we don't know what's coming. Right now we have not met with the new minister for transport (Dion Foulkes) as he is in transition. There are just a lot of things right now that are wrong. The methodology isn't the right formula and it isn't in good taste."
The ban on jitneys appears to be part of an effort by Dr Hubert Minnis, along with the restrictions reimposed on gyms and indoor/outdoor dining, to prevent numerous persons from gathering in a confined space in the belief this will prevent COVID-19's further rapid spread. However, no scientific evidence has been made public to justify this.
Rudolph Taylor, the Bahamas Unified Bus Drivers Union's (BUDU) president, said yesterday: "My take on the whole situation is that it is quite inhumane the way that the public was dealt with, having to be put off the bus. People that have work and have a job probably would lose their job due to having to foot-it, because they got put off of the bus."
"There was no consideration for the bus drivers and their families, so it was something that was a hard pill to swallow because they way that it was dealt with was very inconsiderate. Even on behalf of the police officers, they could have been considerate and told us that they were warning us to drop off the passengers, but then we are not to come back around. Not to put people off of the bus and tell them that they have to walk from where they were."
Citing this as the same approach the Government took back in March when they shut the buses down during the first time, Mr Taylor said: "Nothing is changing in terms of betterment of thinking of the public when it comes to the busing transportation industry."
He added that the industry made all the changes the Government mandated at significant cost to themselves in order to protect passengers from COVID-19 only to be abruptly shut down again. "We want to know where all of this has come about, knowing that we took the protocols that they have asked us to put in place. We did it," Mr Taylor said.
"It was very abrupt the way they did it, because we had no warning. We had drivers running the road this morning; some were warned and some were ticketed. So we went out on the road this morning not knowing that we weren't supposed to be on the road this morning.
"Drivers were ticketed for being on the road when drivers were not supposed to be on the road. We didn't even get the information on the stoppage of jitney service; we found out after the fact. It was not put in the news to make us aware that public transportation would not be running."