I saw an editorial in a newspaper recently addressing the atrocious culture of the minibus that we as a people have to face. It is a culture that is despicable, reprehensible and not good for our country in the past, present, or ever in the future. Most significantly, it is a culture that needs addressing urgently. I must admit that there are few minibuses that operate professionally and more so when driven by their owners.
There is much history that is responsible for this madness that prevails which is relevant to this apparent, ’perpetual’ dysfunctional minibus culture. Please note the following:
1.(a) Being the kind of personality that our First Prime Minister, and later President: Mr Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham had. He held no consultations with the citizens of his country, and by what some may consider his dictatorial persona, he decided to close down the railways of the country. Simultaneously, he shut down all private bus services which were known to be operated mostly by persons of one ethnicity of this country with a unique skill set for this business (Indo Guyanese). Shortly afterwards he established the Guyana Transport Service to cater for transportation from the Upper Corentyne to New Amsterdam. Rosignol to Georgetown and other areas of the country. Almost instantly lives were changed. Transportation for agricultural products to the city from various agricultural areas of the country changed overnight, creating a lot of hardships, adjustments and confusion.
1.(b) The trains amazingly were sold to a British gentleman for ‘next to nothing’ who sold it subsequently to an African nation for 300 times the actual price that he paid the Guyana Government. It is known that wherever the British went, that for their convenience and by extension the convenience of the people they establish railway systems.
2. As one from the Upper Corentyne I recall as a youth the bitterness of the agri producers, small and big business people who used the train to ferry goods to the city and back to their townships and villages. Overtime the transport system started to collapse. Forbes Burnham failed to realise that those persons who were managing their private busses were paying attention to their investments. Unlike the system set by the Government through the Guyana Transport Service. Where many were stealing parts, vehicles were being destroyed by negligence, lubricating oils were not being topped up properly (not frequent changes of oil) and engines were disappearing. Persons collecting the fares were stealing the cash! There was no form of electronic accountability for persons entering and leaving! In the case of the private operators, they were handling their money and they knew exactly how to manage their personal affairs.
3. Maybe the Forbes Burnham Government taught that all the monies in the Public Transport System operated by private persons would have enriched the Government. Some people in the country expressed very serious contrasting views and stated that the aim instead was to break a certain set of persons economically. As was the establishment of the infamous External Trade Bureau (ETB).
4.(a) The loss of the train service created a tremendous negative impact on the economy of the people from the Corentyne, where I hail from. This is why I know so much although I was a child. With this in mind, I am encouraging the Government to immediately consider re-establishing the train service from Upper Corentyne to New Amsterdam and from Upper Corentyne all the way to Georgetown via special rails across the river. And or Rosignol to Georgetown, and like that for other areas of the country. Seeing that this Government will be in power for many, many decades to come. It will be a mighty investment to do one at least per term per five-year term in Government.
(b) I travelled in Europe and saw how train service helped in the development of the Holland economy, Germany, Switzerland, etc. In Germany the service is free of charge to the people to encourage the non-use of petroleum based motor vehicles. Many citizens in Germany and Holland use mostly bicycles and each family has several bicycles to one person: one for comfort, one for speed, one for work. All these countries also have most reliable public bus transport service.
My recommendation as I stated above is for the Government to start looking at rail service. To start looking at luxury bus service in which individuals could be invited to provide such a service and not a bus service that is owned and controlled by the Government. That will create its own logistical issues with maintenance, mechanics, dishonesty in fee collection, thievery of parts etc. But must be a service that is supervised by an aggressive Government entity such as the TLC Inspectorate System in New York. These luxury buses would be air conditioned, have educational shows, movies, yoga, patriotic and civic motivational talks etc. No smoking, no vulgarity, no lewdness, no raising of voices, no indecent music on these buses. The minibus drivers could be trained to become proper bus drivers. But there will always be work in Guyana for those who do not want to get involved in the bus business. The culture has to change through education, uniformity and discipline.
This kind of bus and train environment would be good for the youths travelling to and from school. Persons would be able to relax in comfortable seats with a recliner as they travel long distances. Short term buses will cater for short distance travels. In reference to the points raised about the trains above, in Holland and Germany, there is an electric train service that operates around the city. For a very small fee in Holland and other states persons can access this train for an entire spin around the city. As I have said above, in Germany that train service is free around the city. Such a train and bus transport service that I have suggested here, will give people a chance to save money and to travel in comfort. This service could be provided by the Government of Guyana through the wealth being garnered by the resources owned by the people of Guyana for the people of Guyana.
The safety and comfort of the passengers must be the most important consideration in these transit services.
Roshan Khan (Snr)