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New bus schedule will be a tough sell, admits Crockwell

Government is working to improve efficiency in public transportation but was warned in the House of Assembly that they may have an uphill battle.

Delivering the budget brief for the Ministry of Tourism Development and Transport, Minister Shawn Crockwell said the Government hoped to introduce a new bus schedule in the coming year — the first new schedule since 1998 — which would significantly reduce the amount spent by the department annually on overtime.

Several previous ministers have attempted to replace the schedule over the last decade but so far no proposal put forward has earned the approval of the Bermuda Industrial Union.

Regarding the ferry service, he said Government hoped to “optimise” the ferry schedule between the west end and Hamilton while incrementally increasing service to and from St George's.

He said that efforts are being made to reduce costs in the service by improving fuel efficiency and reducing overtime but in order to remain within budget a compromise of ferry service may be needed if ridership levels do not improve.

And he said a reduction of the number of crew on the Warwick and Paget routes is needed to reduce spending, adding: “Without such smaller cost savings initiatives occurring, more aggressive changes in other areas may be required.”

He also said that the Ministry had been working aggressively to bring premium cruise lines to the Island, including smaller ships that are capable of servicing Hamilton and St George's.

“We continue to meet with all cruise lines in an attempt to secure ships for Hamilton and St George's, recognising that there are increasingly fewer ships capable of docking in these ports,” he said. “We are very pleased that [Holland America Line's] Veendam will be returning to Bermuda in 2015, making six calls into the Hamilton port.”

Independent MP Terry Lister said the budget was unrealistic, noting that while Mr Crockwell had spoken optimistically about the introduction of a new bus schedule such efforts have been unsuccessful for the past several years.

Mr Crockwell acknowledged the past issues, predicting that the new schedule would be poorly received by workers who have grown accustomed to receiving overtime.

Telling the House he could see three former Transport Ministers sitting across from him, Mr Crockwell drew laughter from MPs as he called on them to link arms with him in the event of a demonstration coming to the House.

Mr Lister also noted the Ministry had not announced new small cruise ships to serve St George's and Hamilton, calling on Government to come clean that it won't happen.

“It can be done if you blow up a couple of Islands down there,” Mr Lister said. “If no one's got the gumption to do that then end the conversation and move on.”

Opposition MP Lawrence Scott, meanwhile, said he was pleased that the Ministry did appear to be looking into several areas of concern, including the safety of bus drivers, but said that there are still areas for improvement.

He suggested that Government look into investing in hybrid, or fully electric buses, and limiting the hours that students are allowed to ride the bus for free to plausible school hours in order to increase revenue.

And he called for the Ministry to take a look at the concerns of struggling taxi operators, saying that Government should offer drivers concessions for fuel and payroll tax exemptions during the off-season.

Mr Scott praised elements of the budget brief but said that the Government must still do more than the status quo given the current economic situation.

He suggested that, rather than privatising the airport in order to create a new facility, that Government should create a new quango — an airport authority — which he argued would protect jobs while keeping money in the local economy. He argued that while Airport Operations runs at a $10 million annual loss, the quango could be successful if it could tap into the departure tax — around $14.4 million — and include the profitable Civil Aviation Department.

Government has been working on a new bus service schedule.

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Published March 11, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated March 11, 2014 at 9:52 am)

New bus schedule will be a tough sell, admits Crockwell

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