Minister: bus problems caused by minibuses withdrawing services
Minibus drivers abruptly pulled the plug over the weekend on their deal with the Government to supplement bus services, the transport minister said yesterday.
Lawrence Scott said the move by the minibus association had breached the group’s contract — but added that unions had stepped in to help to cover school bus routes for the remaining two weeks of the school year.
His remarks followed a cancellation notice sent out by the transport ministry yesterday evening, warning of undisclosed school route cancellations today.
The Department of Public Transportation said buses were being redeployed to cover a minibus shortage — but that the move might leave some schools short.
Mr Scott said the alternative arrangement had covered the morning’s school services, although a single commuter service had been cancelled.
“Of the 23 school runs that were needed this afternoon, all but four were served,” Mr Scott told The Royal Gazette.
He said West End Primary, Port Royal Primary, the Berkeley Institute and Harrington Sound Primary schools had been left short this afternoon.
He thanked the Bermuda Industrial Union for “stepping up” after the withdrawal of service from minibuses.
A source close to the minibus association said an internal rift among drivers had led to minibus drivers not receiving payment from the Government, and that a meeting last night between minibus operators and a Government team was expected.
Mr Scott said he had not been informed of plans for a meeting but confirmed there had been a clash among the minibus drivers.
He added: “Last year at approximately this time, there was one minibus association.
“The Government, in relation to Covid and our protocols and the fact that we had a depleted fleet, had the minibuses step in to provide services to our schools.
“The minibus association subsequently became two minibus associations. In order to add a layer of contingency, we amended the contract so that each minibus association received half of the 60 runs a day that was needed.
“However, there has been some sort of internal issue with one of those two that has prevented them from being able to receive payment from Government.”
Mr Scott said the minibus association informed the Government in writing on Saturday that “they would no longer honour the contract and were withdrawing their services”.
“Withdrawing is a breach of contract — and the fact that they wrote it on Saturday and stopped on Monday is another breach.”
In a further twist, Mr Scott said the ministry was aware of a third minibus group that had offered services.
But he said the Government “must follow procedure and go through due diligence” before agreeing to any other deal.
Mr Scott highlighted the Government’s recent purchase of 30 new electric buses, plus the hiring of new operators, that he said had boosted the island’s public bus service which was hit with repeated cancellations last year, with minibuses taken on to ensure that students were covered.
A ministry statement this afternoon confirmed there had been a contract in place since last September, in accordance with regulations, with “two minibus companies” to cover schools.
“Due to their internal operations, one vendor could not receive payments from the Bermuda Government.
“The ministry has been in talks with the vendor to guide and resolve the outstanding issues.”
The statement said that for the remaining 14 days of the school year, the DPT would “continue using minibuses managed by the second company and deploy public buses to help with school routes”.
The ministry added that schools hit by cancellations this afternoon had been notified in advance.
But commuters could expect “a few delays” over the next two weeks.
“However, we are working diligently to service routes with minimal disruptions.”
A source familiar with the minibus driver dispute confirmed that a disgruntled group had broken away from the minibus association.
Deborah Brown, secretary of the group calling itself the Bermuda Association of Minibuses, told the Gazette said the faction had split from the others.
Ms Brown claimed her group has “disassociated because of their behaviour, which was very disruptive”.
She added: “There is no shortage of minibuses at all.” She said the breakaway group had offered its services to the DPT but that the offer had not been taken up.
“They know we’re available, but they would rather go to the press and say there is a shortage of minibuses instead of calling us to ask if we can fill in.”
Mr Scott said the stopgap arrangement would provide the “template” to cover school buses for the next two weeks.