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Busmen stage protest action

There was mixed reaction from bus operators and conductors to a 3-hour protest action called Wednesday by the National Bus Association (NBA) in the wake of a sharp increase in gas price in Grenada.

The protest was supported mainly by the buses plying the popular Grand Anse route and a few others from St David and St. George North-east.

However, the busmen from the traditional stronghold areas of the ruling New National Party (NNP) government in the Happy Hill area of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell and the entire West coast of Gouyave, St Mark and Sauteurs did not participate in the action.

THE NEW TODAY witnessed a heavy presence of members of the Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF) from early as 9.35 in the morning as the busmen gathered outside the National Stadium at Queen’s Park to make the one mile walk to the Bus Terminus on Melville Street in the city.

Three police vehicles were seen outside the stadium along with members of the Special Branch who were detailed to monitor the activities of the busmen and their conductors.

“I can see from here one member of the Special Branch on the other side (of the stadium) looking on at the marchers as they’re about to gather outside the National stadium to march down to the bus terminus,” said our reporter covering the event.

The busmen were engaged in shouts of “Gas price is too high” as they marched peacefully along the route.

Some of the protestors were heard shouting, “The gas price must go or Keith must go”, “We want the roads fixed now or Keith must go”, and “Solution – what we need – solution”.

According to one of the busmen who identified himself to reporters as Jason Skeete, the gas price is “too exorbitant and ridiculous” in Grenada at the moment especially when compared with the other neighbouring islands in the Caribbean.

“It is too high and that has to change,” he said.

Skeete who appeared to be the spokesman for busmen running a short route in St. George North-east pointed out that the roads are terrible and “nothing short than deplorable for the most part” and that the solution does not lie “in a quick patch here, a quick patch there”.

He said: “You drive around and you see people always fixing roads – a quick patch here, a quick patch there. It requires more than that. It is always a recurring decimal.”

“What we need are proper roads – and this is not a favour that we are asking for from the government. This is an obligation that the government has to fulfill. It is not a favour, it is not a privilege – it is a right,” he added.

According to Skeete, bus operators on the island do not get concessions or rebates on the purchase of spare parts but spend the most money daily at the fuel pumps and that should be recognised.

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One bus operator who did not support or oppose the protest action admitted that the sector is in serious problems because there are not many commuters on the road these days “and everybody running wild”.

“So really and truly you have to struggle to make it for the day,” he remarked.

Another busman told THE NEW TODAY that he will not take part in the protest action because the association is too divided with “everybody jooking one another.”

He said that the Grenville Association which he is affiliated with is not working as a cohesive body.

One busman who did not wish to identify his route stated that he had no objection to the protest action being taken as gas price at the pump is much too high at the moment in the country.

“When you look at it we (are) just operating bus at a loss,” he said.

The busman also lamented the fact that the roads need to be fixed since it is costing them in tyres and spare parts.

“I’m telling you straight no money making because by the time you work a bus for the money you pay your conductor, if I wasn’t the owner of this bus ah would have given it up,” said the bus operator who plights the Happy Hill to St George route.

THE NEW TODAY understands that the busmen on the shorter routes normally spend EC$200.00 a day on gas but often complain of making on average $180.00 a day in commuter fares.

Busmen cannot unilaterally increase their fares without approval from the National Transport Board which is controlled by government.

THE NEW TODAY also noticed a team of police officers in plain clothes arriving at the Bus Terminal and pulling aside those bus drivers and conductors who owe money to the state for traffic offences.

One bus driver who did not want to be identified questioned why the police were sent out today to engage in this kind of exercise against them.

The Keith Mitchell-led administration in St. George has been facing a series of protest actions from several quarters in recent months including teachers and public officers on the 4% salary increase issue which was only settled in recent days.

In addition, workers from St George’s University (SGU) and the upscale Sandals resort have been staging protests following the termination of their work contracts for failing to be vaccinated against Covid-19, after a directive from government for all employees in the tourism sector to be fully vaccinated against the deadly virus.