Bus drivers who ply the Grenville to St. George’s route “cannot afford to hire conductors,” says Abraham Munro, president of the Grenville Bus Association (GBA).
“This is an express route,” Munro told The Grenadian Voice on Thursday (June 4). While the service between Grenville and St. George’s has been functioning since public transportation services resumed May 26, many drivers are not using conductors.
In keeping with physical distancing protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the National COVID-19 Task Force agreed the number of persons on a bus is now limited to 12, including the driver and conductor. Whether every bus should have a conductor remains a topic of debate.
Driver Rickey Chetran said hiring a conductor comes with a daily cost of $80: $10 for breakfast, $20 for lunch and $50 for the day’s work. “We don’t need conductors,” he said.
Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Francis Martin, speaking at the June 3 press briefing, recommended that bus owners do everything possible to ensure the public does not touch high risk “touch areas” on the bus to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.
“From a health standpoint we are going to strongly recommend that the conductor be used,” he said, adding from the public standpoint he recommended passengers carry the exact fee to reduce interactions with the conductor.
Assistant Commission of Police Jessmon Prince said it is mandatory that people are sanitised before entering buses and this is the responsibility of the bus owner.
Munro said because Zone 6 is an “express route” there is no need for conductors. “We may drop someone in Birchgrove, but it is usually straight through,” he said, adding that hand sanitisers are used before passengers get on the bus.
With fewer passengers, the National Bus Association (NBA) has been lobbying for a 50-cent increase in all seven bus zones. Munro said “our problem is not the 50 cents.”
Chris Stewart, GBA public relations officers, said the 50 cents is a burden on the public right now.
“Sure we’d like an increase after so long, but people are struggling,” he said. The last increase in bus fees was in 2005.
Noting that “public transportation is essential,” Anna Brizan, permanent secretary with responsibility for transport, said: “While we understand the immediate effect of the fee increase to the operators, it is government’s belief that the citizens cannot bear such an additional cost at this time.”
Meanwhile, as the NBA moves to establish a Go Fund Me Page seeking public donations, more than 500 bus owners have applied for the monthly $800 income support payment under the Economic Stimulus Package. As of Thursday (June 4) 376 owners, many of whom own multiple buses, were approved for the support. All have received payments for April and some have received payments for May and June. There is a delay in the application process for many bus owners because they were not registered with the National Insurance Scheme.
“We have facilitated the process for their registration,” said Chinnel Andrews, Strategic Programme Manager of the Inland Revenue Division assigned to the Economic Support Unit with responsibility for public relations.
As of June 4, a total of $2.1 million had been paid under the income and payroll support programmes of the three-month $20-million Economic Stimulus Package, which ends June 30, 2020.