As the Government of Guyana pushes ahead with its stated objective of making life better for all Guyanese, the introduction on Monday of the water taxi service across the Berbice River has started to bite.
The Number 56 route minibus operators who operate the Rosignol to New Amsterdam route across the Berbice River Bridge took strike action on Tuesday and the Berbice Bridge Company (BBCI) began calling for a meeting with The National Insurance Scheme (NIS) to discuss the lowering of the bridge toll.
The minibus operators stated that they were already finding it extremely difficult to make ends meet due to the high cost to cross the bridge. Now with the introduction of the water taxi service and the free crossing for students, nurses and pensioners it is even more difficult.
On Tuesday, they staged a protest in the vicinity of the Berbice River Bridge at D’Edward demanding that someone looks into their plight.
There are 49 buses that operate the route and according to the owners they were already not being able to work every day, with 14 being off each day limiting them to five days work during the week. Too many buses are on the route.
The buses would sometimes make two trips per day, especially on Mondays. However, on Monday they were reduced to one trip for the day with some not being able to make any as the commuter decided to take advantage of the cheaper and faster water taxi service provided by the MV Nicholas and MV Shanit across the Berbice River.
The minibus operators said that it is no longer profitable. If the BBCI does not reduce the fare or the water taxis do not stop working then many of us will starve.
One official of the minibus association stated that before the Transport and Harbours Department (T&HD) used the pontoon service which operated in the morning and afternoons only. However the water taxis are working whole day and carrying the people free, so who will travel with the bus. Persons are required to pay $120 to cross. The government has also agreed to pay the operators $1,500 per trip.
The operators are calling on the government and the BBCI to come to some compromise as quickly as possible so that everybody could get to live. “The bridge company should come clean and state the true position with the bridge. They cannot play selfish and greedy and allow us to starve.”
They operators stated that what is happening is hampering their chances of earning a full day’s pay. They feel that the government and those who are involved should come to a quick arrangement. One driver is asking why put systems in place for only children who are crossing the river and not those who have to travel down the coast. He stated that he has 11 children, seven of whom are attending school and he has to fend for them. He is working someone’s bus and is already struggling to make ends meet. He is wondering how he is going to make out now that they are hardly getting work with the introduction of the water taxis.
By Tuesday the water taxis service had begun to bed in, with more commuters utilizing the service for the entire day. On Monday the two taxis only did good business in the morning and afternoon hours. On Tuesday business was bright for most of the day.
The boats which begin operation at 06:00 hrs and continue until 18:00 hrs operate on a touch- and-go basis and had by 14:00 hours, completed 16 trips.
The government was forced to introduce the water taxis across the Berbice River after the hardline stance taken by the BBCI in refusing to reduce the toll to cross the Berbice River Bridge by the $300 which was announced by the Government, even though it had agreed to subsidize the cost.
By Tuesday afternoon there were indications that there were more water taxis that were ready to take the river with the arrival of a third boat on a truck.
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