If You Asked Me, Letters & Opinion

Minibus Drivers Playing God

Stan Bishop
Stan Bishop

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.

Stan Bishop began his career in journalism in March 2008 writing freelance for The VOICE newspaper for six weeks before being hired as a part-time journalist there when one of the company’s journalists was overseas on assignment.

Although he was initially told that the job would last only two weeks, he was able to demonstrate such high quality work that the company offered him a permanent job before that fortnight was over. Read full bio...

6 Comments

  1. Thanks for this excellent piece Stan. Your brave and principled stand deserves high commendation.

    Your closing paragraphs are right on point. Those right-minded minibus drivers have just an important role in helping to flush out unscrupulous drivers, as dissatisfied passengers like yourself.

  2. Stan, well done. This is proper journalism as it should be (take note Rochelle G). Shine a light on corruption and embarass the powers that be. Keep on going – there’s thousands of things like this which ruin people’s experiences, not just buses.

  3. The ability to impose meaningful sanctions against offending drivers should be made available to an appropriate and authorized commission. A Commission able to investigate such complains and take actions including permanent revocation of the offending driver’s ability to operate vehicles involved in public transportation. I know in NYC, “The Taxi and Limousine Commission” (TLC) possess these powers.. The name of the driver and other relevant information including his picture has to be displayed in the vehicle at all times, so the offended passenger does not necessarily have to copy down a License Plate number.

    I read the story about the Mayor of San Juan, P.R. being denied services by taxi drivers in NYC and the recourse taken by her to address her grievances. Stan, it would be helpful if you can research the powers assigned to the individuals authorized to monitor the Bus Services. You mentioned the statement of Godfrey Ferdinand, but people thus employed should be empowered to issue court summons/Tickets for violations which is enforced by law; these violations should not just be limited to police actions. Certain things like property maintenance and taxi services, are better handled by State Inspectors able to issue tickets..

    http://7online.com/traffic/mayor-of-san-juan-says-she-was-kicked-out-of-a-nyc-taxi/747184/

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  4. Stan may also shed a light on the nefarious practices of rogue builders and contractors who scam their clients with inflated fees, shoddy workmanship, and abysmal productivity – all of which transform the dream of homeownership into a nightmare. The practices of lawyers and doctors should also receive attention. Both of these groups of professionals are supposed to be self-regulating but judging by repeated complaints from frustrated clients stronger, independent regulation is needed.

  5. Good article Stan. I hope you are not surprised to know that I had the same experienced and I am wondering how many more person(s)/commuter face(s) the same problem on a daily basis. I am from Soufriere and was heading to Dennery to spend the weekend of (June 5, 2015) with relatives. Obviously I used the southern route and on my arrival I Vieux-Fort I boarded a minibus plying the VFort to Castries route. After I boarded the bus I made a check of the bus fare from Vieux-Fort to the Dennery which was posted inside of the bus with the Ministry of Transport(licensing Dept. stamp) which clearly states that the fare for an adult is $4.75. When the bus was filled up the driver decided to collect the fares from the passengers. I gave the driver $5.00 and informed him that I was stopping at Dennery Village and await my change. He informed me that the price is $5.00, I informed him that this is not the case. I double check the bus fare on the list to confirmed that I was correct. I again informed the driver of the correct fare, he told me that the price is $5.00 and that is what everybody pays. I further informed him that not because everybody pays $5.00 and don’t challenge him that it is right. I asked him who gave him permission to charge such price and that as far as I am concern the bus fare has not increase. To my surprise he told me if I will not pay the $5.00 I better get off the bus. I informed him that he is providing a public service and that I would not get off the bus and insisted that he gave me my change. When I realised that he would not give me back my change I then informed him that I am a police officer and presented my police ID to him. He had no choice then but to give me my change but insisted that $5.00 was the correct price. After that was done the passengers on the bus applauded me and we went on our way. On arrival at my destination, I disembarked the vehicle and asked the driver to do likewise. I pulled him aside, obtained his name and address informed him of the offences that he had committed, checked his documents(drivers license and the vehicle insurance ) which were intact. I took the vehicle Registration plate that he was driving, cautioned him and informed him that I would report the matter to the VFort Police, the Licensing Dept./Transport Board and the VFort Mini Bus Association. At this stage,he said nothing.This incident clearly shows that if I didn’t stand up for my rights in addition to Identifying myself as a Police Officer, the driver would not have given me my change. It must be noted also that here was another passenger on-board who was also going to Dennery Village and I assumed she paid the $5.00 but never challenge the driver but remain mute throughout. Commuter be aware. If you are to face such situation, stand your ground. if the driver does not relent, do not quarrel, be calm, ensure that you get the vehicle registration plate and report the matter to the authorities I mentioned earlier.

  6. I am a current abused customer from a mini bus driver. This morning a bus driver on the route 3A asked me to get down his bus because he refused to drop me at my destination. I paid the driver, I was not verbally abusive, my clothes was clean and I had my son accompanying me, who twenty-one (21) months old. I never asked the driver to go off his route, the driver simply didn’t want to continue the route because he had a full load including me and wanted to turn and head straight to the City. I know that the Minibus Association rules states that as long as there are persons on the bus the driver has to complete his Route, the number of persons can be one (1).

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