By Caribbean News Global contributor
KINGSTOWN, St Vincent — St Vincent and the Grenadines government-funded programme geared towards mitigating community spread of COVID-19 commencement a programme over a week ago, with over 400 buses registered for scheduled sanitization amid the formation of a new bus association.
The first schedule programme calls for buses, bus owners and/or drivers, and bus conductors to be registered at either one of two centers at the Victoria Park, and the parking lot of the decommissioned E.T. Joshua Airport. This is followed by the actual sanitization of the registered bus at two points at the Little Tokyo and Leeward bus terminals, respectively.
The sanitization programme according to a ministry of health “is to ensure that the buses are sanitized at scheduled intervals, to minimize the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus which has claimed thousands of lives across the globe.”
Senator Julian Francis, Str. Vincent and the Grenadines minister for transport issued a call for all minibus owners, drivers and conductors “to get registered to access the sanitization programme and the stimulus payment for the next two months as announced by the minister of finance.” He further explained the rationale behind the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines assistance package to minibus operators is an effort to cushion the economic challenges faced by the minibus operators, brought about by the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak.
The transport minister said that bus operators who register would receive a reduction of EC$1.00 per gallon at the pump from March 23, 2020, and another reduction of EC$1.00 is expected to come on stream on or about April 23, 2020.
The government of St Vincent and the Grenadines will also be paying a subsidy to the registered operators, further easing the financial impact caused by bus operators having to transport reduced numbers during the COVID-19 cycle.
Additionally, measures are being undertaken by Dr Ralph Gonsalves-led administration, including a grant fund programme for small business owners 18-40 years old, and over-40 years old; an extension of the PAVE Programme, the painting of public buildings, and unemployment benefits.
Meanwhile, the feed-back from bus operators are mixed, as one member of VINTAS pointed out: “Some of them only want to drive and do not try to help to fix the problems.”
A driver operating the Kingstown to Barrouallie route, who preferred to remain anonymous, told this journalist that while he is supportive of anything to make life easier for all: “We cannot have people running VINTAS who do not understand what it takes to run such an association.” He based his assessment on information that VINTAS was formed by a few bus operators who to date has not explained to other bus operators as to what VINTAS is all about, and that it is different to NOBA.
When questioned on that issue, a member of VINTAS executive said that he does not have the permission of the executive to speak to the media, and there he prefers to remain silent on the matter.
Another executive member who preferred to remain anonymous, when quizzed, alleged that when the authorities picked and choose which bus operators to attend a meeting, they decided to form VINTAS.
He was asked: “What is the structure of VINTAS? Is it different from NOBA? Is it a national body without any affiliate associations as its foundation? What has been done to educate bus operators as to the importance of being part of an organization, of having the autonomy to manage their route, and when will the Vincentian public be given a chance to read and hear what VINTAS has to offer?”
The VINTAS official responded that “we have everything in place, and we will be better and different than NOBA.” Despite being pressed for further explanation, none was forth-coming.