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Premier drove transport agenda forward, but hit some bumps along the way

For 12 years Premier Ewart Brown has presided over the Ministry of Transport.

Since taking on the Ministry of Tourism and then the Premiership, his first portfolio appears to have taken a back seat when it comes to the limelight; despite this, his list of accomplishments is long.

His commitment to increase airlines to the Island stands out.

Bermuda Hotel Association chairman John Harvey said his efforts not only benefited Bermudians wanting a cheaper holiday but also the Island's tourism industry.

However, the Ministry is also where Dr. Brown has been most "combative" with those he works with.

Taxi drivers have been the loudest when it comes to criticism, but public transportation workers have taken industrial action at least ten times over the years.

When the Progressive Labour Party came to power in 1998 Dr. Brown became its first Transport Minister. Within his first term the Ministry upgraded the L.F. Wade International Airport's departure terminal and baggage system and added 45 new buses to the road.

Soon into his second term Dr. Brown introduced fast ferries to the Island. His Ministry went on to overhaul and streamline the Transport Control Department; it added 23 more buses to the roads and provided Bermuda with its first Doppler Radar System for weather reporting. During his third term, students got free public transportation, a demerit system for traffic offences was put in place and a graduated licence programme established.

These are some of the highlights of his 12 years in Cabinet but Mr. Harvey and hotelier David Dodwell said Dr. Brown's commitment to bring more airlines to the Island has been one of his greatest successes.

"He showed that he had quite a focus on getting competitive airfares here.

"With JetBlue, it was really a solo effort to get it going. He met with the chairman and then kept hounding him.

"With WestJet, I know him and Norman Mastalir [managing director of Fairmont Hotels Bermuda] put a lot of effort into that, and hopefully it will continue."

Former Tourism Minster David Dodwell, who owns The Reefs hotel, agreed: "He really has to be credited for his commitment to bring airlines to Bermuda."

In 2003 US Airways added a daily Boston flight followed by a weekly Fort Lauderdale flight. American Airlines also offered a Boston service.

In 2004 United Airlines returned to the Island after a decade away with a weekly Chicago flight, it continued offering service until 2007. The same year USA3000 added a Baltimore and a New Jersey flight while US Airways added an Orlando flight.

In 2005 American Airlines added a Miami flight and Northwest Airlines added a Detroit flight for the year.

A year later low-cost carrier JetBlue arrived on the Island, offering flights from New York and Boston. In 2008 US Airways offered a Washington service while Munic Air offered a weekly flight.

In 2007 Delta added a New York flight followed by Zoom Airlines's London flight. The company became the first to compete against British Airways on the London route since 1967.

In 2010 low-cost carrier WestJet started a Toronto service, the first company since Air Canada to offer the route.

These are some of the airlines who have come during Dr. Brown's time as Minister. While not all the airlines have worked out — for example Zoom went bust in 2008 and Northwest pulled out after a year — Mr. Dodwell said it was commendable Dr. Brown had got so many to come in the first place.

Earlier in the month Dr. Brown said meeting airline CEOs face to face was an important part of the process, with many of the negotiations taking years. The Government has paid $1.9 million to airlines over three years when they failed to meet their revenue projections.

While the list of accomplishments is long, some will remember the industrial action that came during his time as Minister.

Taxi drivers have been his staunchest foes loudly criticising his decision to require all cabs to have GPS tracking systems in place.

In 2004, as the GPS debate was heading to the House of Assembly, they went on strike for two weeks and protested outside Parliament.

Their opposition was so strong it took five years for the Bill, which was eventually passed in 2005, to be implemented. Starting in May 2010, taxis without the GPS system were denied licences.

Public transportation workers were also vocal; industrial action was taken by either the ferry service or the bus service, or both, at least ten times. Sometimes the issue was pay, other times it was safety concerns and a few times there was resistance to efficiency enhancing changes.

For an entire year bus drivers refused to acknowledge the Hamilton ferry bus stop.

Over the years Dr. Brown has said Bermudians must find a way to work out their differences without taking industrial action.

In September, when bus drivers ceased service over safety concerns in the wake of Hurricane Igor, Dr. Brown said: "I believe in my heart of hearts that the Bermuda Industrial Union is too quick to disrupt service to the public when there's a difference of opinion."

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Published October 22, 2010 at 1:00 am (Updated December 10, 2010 at 10:06 am)

Premier drove transport agenda forward, but hit some bumps along the way

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