Bus service to be cut after no deal with minibuses for school runs
Bus cancellations are expected to double this week after negotiations with the Bermuda Minibus Association to provide schools services collapsed.
Roger Todd, the director of the Department of Public Transportation, said that bus cancellations, around 25 a day in normal times, could double to 50 after schoolchildren went back to classroom teaching on Wednesday.
Lawrence Scott, the transport minister, added that despite ”extensive negotiations”, minibus operators were “steadfast in their demand for $210 per run, which amounts to $60,900 per week – which is money this ministry does not have”.
Mr Scott added: “As a result of this inability to agree, the Department of Public Transportation will focus on our most precious commodity – our children.
“And so, when school starts this Wednesday, the DPT will be prioritising school runs to ensure our children can safely and reliably arrive at school and back home.”
Bus fleet capacity was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, which limited passenger numbers.
Minibuses have been used since 2017 to help the island’s ageing fleet maintain service by covering public school runs.
Mr Scott said that deal had provided “a reliable service for the students at a rate of $200 per trip”.
He said the arrangement continued to June last year.
The DPT and the association had to negotiate the use of minibuses with a capacity of 22 seats or more for 23 morning runs and 23 afternoon trips – 46 a day – last September.
Mr Scott said the minibus association had asked for $250 a trip – but the DPT said it could only offer $125 per trip.
The offer was later upped to $175 per trip.
But Mr Scott said: “Unfortunately, despite extensive negotiations, the offer was rejected.”
Mr Scott added that “without the support and sacrifice of the BMA, the DPT is unable to provide the full public schedule”.
He said negotiations with minibus operators continued and the DPT was also looking at extra service from “community service vehicles, airport limousines and the like”.
But Mr Scott warned if transport officials were “unable to secure alternative transportation, this could result in cancellations and disruptions in service”.
Mr Todd added the DPT had never approached the airport limousine operators before.
He said: “They have not been part of our consideration to this point. They are now.”
Mr Todd added the DPT was also “in direct talks” with minibus operators outside of the association.
He said: “We will solicit the support we can from those individuals willing to engage us at $175.”
A member of the minibus association, who asked not to be named, said operators had taken pupils to school from September up to the Christmas break, despite having “the goalposts moved on us”.
He added: “We took the children from the end of summer up to Christmas on $125 a ride. We didn’t want them to be left behind, so we did it.
“We agreed to take half loads on the bus because of the lower price, but then they got health approval for full loads.”
The BMA source said in the latest negotiations last week, when $175 was offered, the group was told to “take it or leave it”.
He added: “We already gave them a break. They are flip flopping on offers when at the end of the day we’re running a business.”
The operator said that under the last deal he had been barely breaking even.
He added the real number of bus cancellations was likely to run higher than the 50 announced by Mr Todd.
He said: “I think when the general public get real about this, it could get ugly.”
⋅To read the minister’s remarks in full, click on the PDF below “Related Media”.
This story has been amended to show that the amount bus operators were reported to be seeking amounted to $60,900 per week, not $690,000 per week.