Minister admits there are ‘huge gaps’ in bus service due to repairs
Government looks set to pay thousands of dollars for an overseas mechanic to come to Bermuda because about 40 percent of buses are currently off the road.
The Ministry of Transport is looking to bring in someone from Germany to help retrain local mechanics as about 50 of Bermuda’s 119 buses are currently out of action.
The severe shortage has caused huge gaps in the timetable with school routes and tourist services from Dockyard to Horseshoe Bay being axed.
Transport Minister Terry Lister says he “sees value in” an overseas trainer as Bermuda’s timetable can only operate with a maximum of 35 buses off the road.
Bus parts are currently sent to Germany to be repaired if they cannot be repaired on-island as Bermuda’s fleet of buses is manufactured by German company MAN.
Mr Lister confirms the shortage of buses is having “a significant impact” and some schools have expressed concerns about children turning up late.
He said “it’s bad at the moment” and “it’s a real challenge for us” as the Island never usually has more than 45 buses off the road at the same time.
Yesterday morning there were 51 buses off the road, 42 percent of the fleet, and from midday onwards there continued to be about 47 vehicles out of action.
Mr Lister blamed the current shortage on a combination of “funding and staffing” and estimates it will be much the same story for “the next couple of weeks”.
He said: “We are all working together to deal with this matter but there is not enough manpower.
“We run these buses hard and run them hard all year”.
The Royal Gazette has reported on several bus and ferry issues since the Department of Transport had its budget reduced by $1.3 million, down seven percent from last year.
In April we reported drivers’ concerns that there “weren’t enough buses on the roads to cover our rosters” and their predictions that it was “absolutely going to get worse”.
The situation is said to be worse than in previous years as the current overtime ban means mechanics are taking longer to repair buses. The latest budget book shows that the Department of Public Transport’s goal is to have a maximum of 15 buses out of services.
Buses can be off the road for a few weeks or months, for general maintenance or accident repairs. Mr Lister also explained that the average age of the buses is 14 years so some vehicles had specifically been taken off the road to “bring them up to a higher level of maintenance”.
He said to avoid further breakdowns, these buses were undergoing extensive maintenance “to keep them in service for six months”.
Mr Lister said a solution would be for a mechanic from Germany to update locals on the latest in repairs. He said: “We are talking about it. That’s one of the things we see value in”.
He added that the Ministry had previously sent mechanics to Germany for training, but no one had been for about four years. It comes on the day Mr Lister and Chris Furbert, president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, will meet to try to reach an agreement on the new bus timetable.
In May the two parties agreed to go to arbitration over the decade-long dispute but Mr Furbert pulled out of the process and talks have continued at the table.
Mr Lister admitted the new timetable was “terribly overdue” as it should be updated every four years but had not been revamped since 1998.
The dispute centres around the loss of weekends off for bus drivers on West End routes, who would only have two to four weekends off a year instead of the 12-16 weekends they currently have.
Mr Lister explained that the “supply (of timetables) was running out” and Government would not be printing anymore until the issue had been resolved.
He said: “We are determined the new bus schedule will be done soon, we really are determined to get this done”.
Mr Lister added that he was “struggling to make an issue” out of it as people could go on the Internet or to the bus station or ferry terminal to look at timetables. He said he was hopeful the matter would be resolved at today’s meeting, adding: “If we get it worked out, I will be in celebration”.
Mr Lister later hinted that he was praying for a resolution, telling members of the media: “I am inviting you to join me on your knees”.
Mr Furbert told
The Royal Gazette that he would be going into today’s 4pm meeting with Mr Lister “with an open mind”.
He said the membership had voted that it would not be in their “best interests” to proceed with the arbitration process.
But Mr Furbert added: “We have continued to sit around the table, but if we can’t come to an agreement, the only option may be to go to arbitration”.