180 bus runs axed this week, despite schools being off
Broken-down buses caused major route cancellations this week - even though most schools are on holiday, which eased pressure on the service.
The Department of Public Tranportation said 180 bus runs were cancelled this week, down from 227 the week before.
A minibus operator warned the problem of broken-down public buses would take two to three years to tackle.
The minibus owner was one of those contracted by the Department of Public Transportation to pitch in for the rest of the academic year to get pupils to and from schools.
The transport ministry signalled last month that cancellations would increase as schoolchildren were given priority for public buses and additional minibuses.
A ministry spokeswoman confirmed yesterday that the latest cancellations were caused by out of service buses.
She added: “Although most schools are on midterm break this week, some are still operating.
“As such, buses are scheduled as normal to support those schools in operation.”
Minibuses have been used to back up the Government’s fleet under a series of deals since 2017, but a dispute over payments flared up as pupils prepared to return to school in January.
The eventual agreement had the minibus association covering 34 bus runs a day at $185 a journey - a sum operators branded inadequate.
One minibus operator, who asked not to be named, said the sector had accepted the deal on the understanding they would be paid every week.
But he added that the contracted operators had learnt they would be paid once a month, with payment due next Monday.
He said: “I have not been able to pay my bus driver for two weeks because of someone else’s tardiness.
“Regular bus drivers can go on strike in a heartbeat, but here the Government have used the children as a commodity. When you have a contract, you honour it.”
The ministry spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment on the payments system.
The minibus operator said the public sector cancellations were unavoidable.
He added: “They do not have enough buses and not enough manpower. At any given time, DPT needs 90-odd buses and as many as 175 staff.
“I estimate they are operating with just over 100 staff, and there isn’t the money to buy new buses.”
He predicted that on Monday, when all the schools were back to work “the numbers will escalate again”.
The operator added: “The buses aren’t getting a break. The service stops are just refuelling, so they don’t get the mechanical attention. The bus numbers could be outstanding another two, three years.”
Scott Pearman, the shadow minister for transport and legal affairs, said last night: “It’s regrettable that the Progressive Labour Party government has not focused on the transportation infrastructure through the years – we are now seeing the outcome of that neglect.
“The important thing is the here and now - it’s not about the past.
“We have children who have missed a vast amount of schooling during the Covid-19 period.
“Now we have an opportunity to get them to school that has to be the priority. This issue needs urgent attention.”
The Government announced a request for proposal in 2019 with the US-based green energy non-profit the Rocky Mountain Institute for the “next generation of buses”.
Zane DeSilva, then the transport minister, said he was optimistic that a deal for new vehicles was on the horizon just before the coronavirus hit the island last March.
But the ministry spokeswoman said last night that the contract for new buses remained at the request for proposal stage.