BASSETERRE, St.Kitts (Friday 19th March 2020)- Feeling “ignored” over the past three years, bus drivers of the East Bus Line Association recently turned into protestors in an attempt to get attention with response action from government regarding complaints about the operations of the December 2018-opened terminal located on Wellington Road in Basseterre.
Over ten (10) association members, on Monday 15th March 2021 sometime after 10am, parked their public transport vehicles in a line outside the terminal and walked to Government Headquarters located on Church Street- arriving shortly before 11am- where they stood outside chanting “Ease de squeeze!”
Placards messages included ‘NO SATISFACTION-TIME FOR ACTION’, ‘EAST BUS TERMINAL NAR WUK-FIX IT’ and ‘LAW IS NULL AND VOID IN ST.KITTS’.
“What is happening here actually is a result of what should have been done three years ago. In fact, we have been asking the government since they moved us here to work with us in terms of they promised to us to give it to us but they refused,” said association President Jefferson Pemberton when interviewed by this media house shortly before the protest.
He continued: “You find that guys parked inside here in the terminal for an extended period of time cannot get any passengers. Why? Because the [other] bus operators that are coming from the Bay Road are picking up passengers who are walking on their way to the terminal which makes it difficult for buses who are here cannot get any passengers, and they looking and calling in here a horse stable, pig pen, a prison, and we find that government spend so much money in building the structure…they should ensure that the operators in here should be comfortable in operating from it. They should put things in place to make that happen, and that is not being done, and that is happening now for over three years.”
Pemberton shared that the bus drivers have been financially affected.
“Everyone is affected. They cannot pay their mortgage, the banks are calling, banks are threatening to take their bus so it is serious, and that is why when you growing up you hear [the saying] desperate people do desperate things.”
“We don’t want the guys who operate from here who are law abiding citizens do something outside of the law so we are trying our best to protest peacefully to let the government know that we are willing to sit at the negotiating table; sit with them and let them hear us because many of them have refused. They are hearing but they [are] just not listening to us.”
Commenting on what steps were taken when the challenges were realized, Pemberton commented: “For the first week [when the terminal opened], it went ok but after two to three weeks after everything just started to go downhill and we’ve been complaining, reporting, we’ve been writing and no results.”
He explained that a meeting was held with the Minister of Transport Lindsay Grant when he took over the Ministry (previously under the portfolio of Ian ‘Patches’ Liburd) saying: “It was a fruitful meeting but fruitful up to a certain point. After that meeting, it went back to a state of normalcy and nothing has been done so we are wondering what is happening people are just not fulfilling their promises …so the guys feel that they are just having us like fools.”
Secretary/Treasurer Vinshaw Mangra, in speaking to this media house, expressed: “When the terminal was built, it was explained to us that because of the volume of traffic in St.Kitts. They (the government) wanted the buses to stay of out of town area so we don’t understand why you want some buses to come in the terminal for three hours to get a trip while a next bus outside picking up passengers out on the main road of the terminal and make four trips and we only get one. We’re saying we want fair share for all because that is what the government promised…”
“Somebody has to deal with the system. We cannot be in here two years now and cannot make any money when this is we daily bread. I have three kids, I have to support them, my bus needs servicing and all kinda stuff. If I am here for three hours and can’t get a trip, I can’t make any money. How am I gonna feed my kids so it’s very important that the government spent over $4 something million dollars and it’s not working. Something needs to be done and we’ve been asking for it and it’s just discussion, discussion. We’ve been to all authorities from the small [in rank] police officer to the Police Commissioner. We went to the Minister and the PS and every day we go they say ‘Ok, we’re gonna work with it’, and buses continue to do as they like,” he pointed out.
Fast forward in speaking with him during the wrap up of the protest shortly before 12 noon, he informed that the Deputy Prime Minister Shawn Richards reached him via phone and asked that the association’s executive gather for a meeting that afternoon for 1pm.
Mangra said most of the Cabinet ministers were present including Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris. In providing an update, he outlined that they met with cabinet ministers on Monday afternoon and had a “good discussion”.
As understood, the bus drivers were told to expect enforced police presence with more vigilance. Additionally, coming out of the discussions, some minor repair works are expected to be carried out at the terminal on Monday 22nd March and a temporary location for bus drivers is expected to be identified before. “It was discussions that encouraged us…it’s just for [such] to come through and the actions start to flourish.”
That day of the protest, the Traffic Department issued tickets and towed away the parked buses. However, those tickets were withdrawn and the bus drivers got their vehicles back that afternoon.