Buses will be better, pledges Minister
Government is pulling out all the stops to ensure buses are up to par for another bumper cruise ship season.
The committment comes after Bermuda made international news headlines last year when angry cruise ship passengers were left stranded without adequate transportation.
Government has revamped the Public Transportation Department’s budget to facilitate a quicker mechanical turnover for malfunctioning buses.
According to Transport Minister Derrick Burgess, the management system of ordering spare parts has been changed, PTD is also in the process of hiring three new mechanics who will be put on a new work schedule that runs from 4pm to midnight.
In an interview with
The Royal Gazette, Mr Burgess said: “That’s the time most buses are parked and that’s the time they should be serviced. Right now we have a 19-hour operation with an eight-hour shift for mechanics.
“We want as much mechanical service at night as possible, it cuts down on overtime and it’s the prudent way to manage; you have to manage properly to get the buses back on the road at quicker rate.
“Last year we were about four mechanics down through attrition. This year we revamped our finances to hire three new mechanics, and we will change the hours for the new staff.”
PTD lost a number of mechanics due to attrition. Mr Burgess, who replaced former Minister of Transport Terry Lister, said the current policy is also changing. “Under certain agreements people can work until the age of 70, instead of the retirement age of 65.
“If they have a good record, a clean bill of health and want to keep working, they can stay on. We lost a lot of talent and a wealth of experience in that area due to attrition.
“The last set of advertisements have been published. The closing date for applications is February 24. Hopefully we can find them locally, but I hope to have them on board soon.”
The lack of spare parts in stock for repairs was another key issue last year when more than 50 buses were out of service on any given day during the cruise ship season. Bus operators were left with no bus to drive on their routes, which resulted in no service for locals who depend on public transportation daily.
The numbers are down this year in the lead up to the new season. Mr Burgess said: “Last week I think we had about 47 buses off the road due to mechanical problems. On Friday it was 35 and I think that number will continue to come down with the introduction of the new shift for the incoming mechanics.”
Former Transport Minister Mr Lister had said at one point that PTD may have to hire a mechanic from the manufacturing company in Germany to train local mechanics. But Mr Burgess has opted to bring in two mechanics from Europe temporarily for a period of up to three months and they won’t be hired full-time. “Instead we are looking to hire qualified Bermudians to bring the repair team up to full compliment.”
Mr Burgess also said the system of ordering spare parts has been revamped as well. “I’m told we should take delivery of them sometime in early March. The tyres are here, each bus has six tyres and I’m told we have to change them three times a year, which means we need roughly 2,000 tyres a year.”
Since the angry exchanges by disgruntled stranded tourists last year, Mr Burgess said PTD has taken a look at the heaviest demand periods for buses at Dockyard. “Last year we didn’t have the proper management. The chaos seemed to have happened most between 8 and 10am.
“This year there will be a TCD manager on post from 8am. With the Taxi Authority they know they will have to have a certain number of seats, everyone will be managed by TCD. And I’ve had good reports from the ferry service, they too will be ready.”
In response to the call for ferries to run at night from Dockyard to Hamilton, Mr Burgess said: “The load factor was very small and running the ferries is not cheap, but we will look at that.
“We’re in talks with the Chamber and city officials, if retailers want business from tourists they have to be open for business. If you’re closing at 5pm then there’s no shopping available. We’re suggesting they keep the stores open later at night. I think it was received positively and if the stores stay open later we’ll do what we have to do with ferries.”
Executive Vice President of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce Joanne MacPhee agreed. “We’ve met with both the Ministries of Transport and Tourism and we had a particularly constructive meeting with Marine and Ports.”
Despite budget limitations Ms MacPhee said: “The Chamber is confident Government is doing everything it can to accommodate the interests of our members.
“In return, the Retail Division has agreed to collectively review their options regarding late night shopping on key market days. Particular attention is being given to Sunday shopping, especially when there are three ships berthed in Dockyard; which will be pretty much every other week once the season really gets underway in April.”
“We have requested a review of the policy which currently prevents retail stores over 1,000 square feet from opening before 1pm on Sunday. Everyone is trying to work together on this.
But at the end of the day it comes down to simple economics and whether a store can afford to open or not be open. This is not just a City issue, our retailers both in the West and East are grappling with the same issues.”
The first cruise arrives on Sunday, March 4 from New York. The 758ft
Artania will deliver an estimated 1,071 passengers to Heritage Wharf in Dockyard for a one-night stay.