AS if religion does not already have its more than fair share of problems to deal with, some people still feel the need to add a few more deities to it.
It appears that many of our minibus drivers have taken the liberty of self-appointing themselves, gods of the four-wheeled temples of public transportation they figure our poor souls cannot get to and from home without.
I’m willing to bet that like me, many of my fellow members of the commuting public have had it up to their noses with the filthy treatment some uncouth minibus drivers dish out to us just because they’re in the driver’s seat. I’m sure many of you, too, just wish for the day when you don’t have to listen to the condescending tones coming from some of these minibus drivers who ostensibly think the public needs them more than they need the public. The phrase, “God is in control”, seems to apply to these minibus drivers who clearly see no need to respect the people who fund their daily bread.
Two Saturdays ago, I had the misfortune of boarding a Route 1A (Castries-Gros Islet) bus parked near Dilly’s Supermarket. I had just finished covering an event around midnight and boarded the minibus around 12:20 a.m. The driver, who was standing outside the bus, leaned his head through one of the windows and informed the five of us passengers that he would be taking no less than $5 from each passenger who came out anywhere along the route to Gros Islet.
“So, driver, you’re telling me that I have to pay you $5 from Dilly’s Supermarket to La Clery gap. Is that correct?” I asked.
“Padna, that’s the rate after midnight. Five dollars anywhere along the route,” he replied, almost convincingly.
“So what does the price schedule you have posted in the bus say about what’s supposed to be charged after 11 p.m., then, driver? Doesn’t it say that you should be charging fare and a half?” I responded.
That’s when the driver ramped up his illicit campaign.
“Padna, if you don’t want to pay me my $5, then you know what to do. Just leave my bus now. Everybody pays $5 after hours, so you know what to do,” he demanded.
He even went on to say that government had “just raised the motor vehicle licence fee on us”, to which I replied that vehicle licences were indeed raised last month except for FAR vehicles, hearses and – get this – minibuses! Mate killed that particular topic one time. Too much shame, I guess.
After a few minutes of cordial protestations between the driver and I (the other passengers seemed ready to pay him what he was charging, by the way, so they remained quiet), he drove off with us. However, he got just as far as the Bexon bus stand when another passenger hailed him. While the new passenger attempted to open the side door, it fell right out. The driver came out and made a valiant attempt to fix the door, but to no avail. Then he demanded that we get off the bus because he could not drive it with the door in that sorry state. Clearly, a higher power than he thought he was, had been watching over the injustice he was dishing out to us.
The five of us stood on the sidewalk for about five minutes until another Route 1A bus pulled up near us. We got in and the same $5 scam was repeated to us by the new driver. I told him that I had experienced the same situation thrice in less than a year and had reported the matter to one of the Gros Islet Minibus Drivers Association executive members and got my refunds from the culpable minibus drivers, one of whom had cussed me out just because I looked at his registration number when I got off his bus. I also told him that I was contacting the president of the national executive, Godfrey Ferdinand, immediately. At that point, the driver told me that since I was planning on doing all that, “just get off my bus, all of y’all.”
We got off the bus after failing to convince him that he was providing a service for which we were paying. That’s when we were reminded that none of us had helped him buy his bus. I immediately sent a WhatsApp message at 12:49 a.m. to Godfrey Ferdinand explaining our dilemma. He told me that since overcharging is a police matter, I needed to give a report to the association and the ministry responsible for public transportation. That I will do, since I also took the liberty of recording the registration numbers of those two vehicles. But I would quicker drink Jim Jones’s red kool-aid than believe that the Route 1A minibus association executives don’t know that overcharging is a major issue among their drivers and that they need to root it out.
Soon enough, the first driver finally fixed his faulty door and asked whether we still wanted to use his service. After 1 a.m., we had no choice, so we boarded his minibus and were on our already-much-delayed journey. I got out at La Clery gap, gave him three dollars, and walked off. He called me back for my seventy-five cents change, but I politely told him he should keep it. That door really needs a serious fixing-up fund, anyway. Besides, I’d prefer to tip a minibus driver any day than to be railroaded by one.
What needs to be done in the quickest possible time is that in the same manner the fare structure is signed, sealed and posted in these minibuses, we need to add a clause that says overcharging is a criminal offence. The fare structure clearly indicates that between the hours of 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. a fare and a half would be charged. We also need to have ministry officials board these buses at random to pinpoint who the guilty parties are. That should teach these high and mighty carriers of docile passengers a lesson.
Minibus drivers cannot be arbitrarily imposing added costs on the travelling public just because it suits their fancy or pays their gambling bets. These minibus drivers need to wake up and take their heads out of their exhaust pipes and know that their daily loaves can be taken away at any time. With the government entering into private/public partnerships like crazy these days, the public transportation system of the future might just catch these offending minibus drivers walking the streets – or worse, taking the bus — looking for work.
Finally, I wish to applaud all those minibus drivers who do their best to make the travelling public feel safe, worthy and not taken advantage of. You are a rare breed in an industry that often gets the public negative reaction as opposed to the positive. It’s obvious that many of you really do try to give an honest day’s work and professional service to the travelling public. That’s why it’s so important that you, too, join your passengers in speaking out against these offending minibus drivers who are out to turn a noble service into a rip-off.
If you asked me, failing to do so redounds to adding to the disservice your passengers are receiving from your unscrupulous colleagues.