COMMUTERS using the Gros Islet route paid a high price on Carnival Monday and Tuesday for what minibus operators called the sheer disrespect and selfishness of the event’s organisers.
The corner of Trinity Church Road and the Darling Road was an unfortunate sight on the mentioned days as hundreds of commuters waited for hours on end to board the 1A route buses, only to be denied until the roads along the carnival route was reopened.
It was not until shortly after 8:00 p.m. that drivers began to allow passengers to board their vehicles to take them to their destinations.
Minibus operator, Francis Flavien and Public Relations Officer for the Gros Islet Minibus Owners Association, Chris St. Louis, told The VOICE on Thursday that although there was no strike action, the situation was just the beginning of things to come.
“There were lots of people, but it wasn’t a strike to say that they didn’t want to work,” Flavien said. “It was just the nature of the road system. Drivers didn’t want to make the whole round, burning more fuel for the same price and whatnot.”
He continued: “If a proper agreement is not reached by the next season, you will find that kind of problem again. So they will have to fix up something in-between, talk to the ministry, the carnival association and whatnot, to iron out something and then things will be better.”
Flavien was referring to the closure of the roads in the city centre as well as a portion of the John Compton Highway so that the festivities could be facilitated.
Drivers were rerouted and forced to make their way in and out of the city centre via the Morne Du Don route, which took them through narrow and potholed backroads, as well as hilly inclines.
St. Louis said a call was sent out for the Carnival committee, RSLPF, St. Lucia Fire Service, Ministry of Infrastructure and other associations, to come together to discuss the route and how it would be utilised. But, he said, this has not happened for two years, yet a decision was made without their consent.
However, St. Louis said with the recent $1.50 hike in fuel, plus the increase in sizes of the vehicles and the shortage of commuters along the new route, minibus operators are getting the raw end of the deal and stand to only lose out on that deal.
“We provide a service, yes, but it’s also a business, and we the operators also have our commitments,” St. Louis said. “So why come Carnival Monday and Tuesday, burn a day’s work, and at the end of the day when you get home, you can only put fuel in your vehicle and there is no take home (pay)? That is very unfair to the operators.”
He added: “What we’re saying to the ministry and the carnival committee (is that) next year Carnival Monday and Tuesday, let’s at least have some sort of discussion and organise.”
St. Louis suggested that rather than rerouting them through the backroads, the authorities should organise the flow of traffic so that one side of the highway can be used, where one lane goes to the city and the other goes out of it.
“We’re not saying that we need priority over other road users, but we have to be diplomatic,” he said. “Minibus drivers pay (for) a permit to use the road unlike all other drivers who simply pay their road tax only. Yet, we cannot use the road like everybody else.”
He continued: “Revellers are not the only people who use the roads; there are everyday people who take the bus to and from work and have no involvement with carnival. What about them?”
St. Louis said talk is cheap and that action is now needed.