Thousands were left stranded at bus stops across the nation today as the drivers of privately-owned Public Service Vehicles (PSVs) shut down their engines to agitate for an increase in bus fares, among the changes demanded for a transport system they claim has not been working in their interest for years.
Some operators blocked a few of their colleagues who crossed the protest line and attempted to continue operating.
Drivers and conductors told Barbados TODAY the last straw was the imposition of a new uniform, with shirts bearing the logo of the Barbados Transport Authority.
They also said there were infuriated over a number of laws including one which could see their licence revoked for six months after being reported twice by police, which they said caused uncertainty about their future.
“We decided to stand down today. Not a Speightstown van is working. The ZR’s are parked. Speighstown Terminal is basically shut down, because we are unsure of our future,” said the president of the newly-formed PSV Workers Association, Shawn Best. Yet while insisting that “this is not a strike”, he confirmed the workers decided to “stand down from work”, because our future in the industry is unsure right now.
“They forced a uniform on the guys, with [the words] Transport Authority. None of us work for Transport Authority, none of us can go to the bank and say ‘I am working for transport authority and go and get a loan, but we are promoting Transport Authority . . . . There are approximately 4,000 PSV workers in Barbados, each one needing two to three shirts. So this is generating funds for other people who have a vested interest,” he said in front of dozens of his colleagues.
The stoppage followed threats by the workers on Monday to walk off the job, to protest the policy’s implementation. Though it was reportedly called off after ministry officials decided to delay the deadline by two months, Best said those on the Speightstown route did not think twice about walking off the job and were united in their stance.
“Speightstown [route] is order . . . . We came together and agreed that we do some nonsense too and we need to come together and stop it. So the guys decided that we wanted to find out what is going on,” he said, declaring that the Barbados Labor Party administration only picked up where the previous administration left off by refusing to address the plight of PSV workers.
“We called one or two people in the industry. We called a politician who is dealing with the ministry and he is telling us ‘the tail will not wag the dog’. He only sounds like the people that were running the same ministry that he is running right now. So they don’t want to hear what we are saying.
“The best thing to do is to stand down until we get a little clarity,” Best said.
The move didn’t sit well with commuters in the Speightstown area, some of whom were left stranded for up to three hours.
“This is very frustrating because I’ve come to town for a couple things so I could go to work and I can’t get back home. All of my chicken is melting,” said Chi Griffith, who said she had been trying to get back home to Boscobel, St Peter, for over three hours.
The regular user of public transport complained that PSV operators often did not treat their customers well.
“I feel they should learn to drive properly and to put you off at your rightful destination . . . . If they want to be treated well, they have to start to treat their customers well,” she said.
In the City, PSV operators parked their vehicles and were instead busy organizing a meeting on the Spring Garden Highway at the entrance to the flour mill at the Bridgetown Port, where they eventually met with workers from the north.
The attempts were briefly disturbed just before midday, when port security guards accompanied by police officers informed PSV operators that they would have to relocate, as they had not been given permission to park their vehicles on the port’s property.
They then converged at the car park opposite Brandon’s beach where they gathered for close to an hour. Another spokesman for the group of disgruntled workers, Tony Fergusson also confirmed the protest was the result of workers being required to buy Transport Authority shirts.
While this was not the only issue, he said it was the one, which broke the camel’s back.