By Leon Suseran
A passenger entering a minibus has so much to put up with these days. The story of minibus travel in Guyana is quite an interesting one that can fuel a discussion that can go on and on and on, since Guyanese can write a book about the various bad experiences encountered while traveling on a minibus.
In spite of this and due to the fact that the travellers here cannot do any better, Guyanese continue, on a regular basis, to flock minibuses which provide the cheapest fares. Even though a large number of the Guyanese populace now own their own vehicles, a larger number depend wholly on the nationwide minibus service to get to their destinations, work or otherwise.
The minibus, in the Guyanese context, is a small passenger vehicle that can hold up to 15 persons or so, and can travel to unimaginable speeds- drivers do not hesitate to test those speeds on our roadways. In Guyana, there are hundreds of minibuses that ply the roads daily. These buses are owned by individuals who pay their own drivers to operate daily on the roadways.
These drivers must make lots of money at the end of the day to put in the hands of the owners, so this makes the job very challenging, since it becomes a competition on the road among minibus drivers (and conductors) to see who can shuttle most passengers and earn the most cash. The more trips they make, the more cash they roll in.
The stakes are high indeed resulting in the passengers becoming pawns in this “bread-and-butter” business. Pawns in a sense that the drivers want to get the fastest to their destinations, and try to move past other minibuses plying the same routes, to snatch passengers off the road.
This has, on numerous occasions, resulted in high speeding and road accidents, many of which have left dozens of deaths on the roads. Over the past years, hundreds of persons have died as a result of travelling in a minibus. The statistics tell a harrowing tale of horror that has left much grief, distress and families without mothers, fathers and children.
Yet, the government feels no need to step in effectively to control this service by imposing stricter regulations such as erecting speed- bumps along the highways and by-ways (as is done in other countries visited by this writer). But in other countries, there are no minibuses, if any at all. Many Caribbean nations as well as North American countries use subways and big- bus services.
These buses are very big and cannot speed too much due to their size. Speed bumps are strewn along the highways and busy intersections, so even if drivers want to speed, they cannot because they have to slow down upon encountering these bumps, lest damage their shacks and tires.
Not only is speeding a problem (perhaps it is the least of the problems) but the entire minibus culture and service is degrading and dehumanizing to say the least. A passenger joins a minibus and ends up having one of the worst experiences of his or her life, in public transportation.
And to think tourists have to put up with this horrible system. It is really bad for tourism since not many drivers and conductors are properly trained to deal with the travelling public.
The problems experienced by Georgetown passengers differ from the countryside passengers, since I am specifically speaking about minibus operators that ply the New Amsterdam to Moleson Creek routes.
For example, you enter a minibus for a 20- minute journey, say, to Rose Hall Town or Port Mourant, and end up spending nearly an hour in the bus, getting there. The drivers, in their quest for passengers, end up turning around, going here, going there for passengers, and the passengers in the bus enduring all of this, end up being late. So, you must join a bus perhaps two hours before the scheduled time to get to your destination, because chances are you will spend a long time in that vehicle.
Drivers appear to have no consideration for passengers, since they (the passengers) are always asked to “make a shift” or “double up”. When the passengers show displeasure in this, they are insulted. This is the true expression of the glut for money and passengers, and desperation by the drivers to exceed the dollars earned for that day. They do not care about the comfort of the passenger.
The music is another story. The most obscene and lewd music played to damage one’s ears is usually played. The driver and conductor cannot hear the passengers’ ‘stop’ call.
Many have called for the big bus system to be re-implemented here but the authorities do not seem inclined enough. As a result, we will continue to pay the price of numerous lives being lost each year due to minibus vehicular accidents. How naive and slow to act we seem to be.
On many occasions, passengers end up cursing the drivers and conductors of minibuses because of the unfair and inconsiderate treatment. But do they (the drivers and conductors) care? Absolutely not. To them, it is just another day on the road; another day in the quest for passengers; another day to gamble with people’s lives on Guyana’s roads.
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