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Dec 1, 2005

Day two of bus strike begins with drivers being fired

Story PictureTonight, bus drivers and the management of the Novelo’s Bus Company continue to buck heads over the cause of yet another breakdown in service, this time in routes from the southern part of the country. The employees in Dangriga contend that the buses are not road-worthy and have become safety hazards… But administrators maintain there’s no money to fix the vehicles because drivers are pocketing bus fares. It’s a complicated scenario that once again has commuters taking the brunt of the turmoil in the transport industry.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting
This was the scene outside of the Southern Transport bus terminal in Dangriga Town. Most of the buses were parked inside the compound and the drivers standing outside of what was their work place until this morning. The men say they were all fired by management after they refused to drive for the company. The disgruntled workers argue it is no longer safe for them or passengers to travel because the buses are in a deplorable condition.

Miguel Haylock, Fired Driver
?I think we shouldn?t risk the people life and our life. We have kids to live, for we have people to live for. I think we should just stand down, we noh di strike, we the stand down. We need brakes for the buses, we need parts, we need fi mek sure everything di roll.?

Donald Ritchie, Fired Driver
?They refuse to get parts. Up to yesterday the General called and say no parts for Southern Transport. So what they want we do.?

?I mean we have to be under those bus everyday, everyday to try to fix it on our own so that we could at least get out on the road, and this is the result that we get.?

Nestor Teul, Fired Driver
?The bus the smoke when you on the road. I mean the smoke terrible for the next passengers weh the come, the traffic.?

Deon Gomez, Fired Driver
?Most of all why I park my bus is because it have tyre problems, the tyres are very bad. It has an oil leak and that?s why I don?t take it on the road and I park the bus.?

Kyrle Haylock, Fired Driver
?We can?t move because the bus don?t have the parts to move, so we can?t move. But they call it a strike, because they can?t move?as you could see, all of them parked in the yard right there, still parked. The next drivers can?t take it.?

The bus drivers say they were fired for operating under the company?s handbook, which specifically states that a driver is not to proceed on any schedule or charter until he is satisfied that the vehicle is safe to do so. That it is illegal to drive a defected vehicle, especially when that defect relates to the safety features of the vehicle.

Robert Garcia, General Mgr., Novelo?s Bus Company
?It is unfortunate that the drivers are not applying every aspect of the handbook in this case. And one of which is that the income that the bus generates; the company ought to get it.?

General Manager of Novelo?s Bus Robert Garcia, says the company is aware of the problems affecting the buses, but it is a situation they inherited when Novelo?s bus line went into receivership. Since that time, Garcia says a considerable amount of money has been spent repairing and upgrading the buses. But according to Garcia, not all of the monies received by the Dangriga drivers from commuters have been handed over to management and they can no longer continue to subsidise the buses. Garcia says where Southern Transport is concerned, in November they spent in excess of thirteen thousand dollars on maintenance alone to keep that service in operation.

Robert Garcia
?You?ll find they include a number of tyres, they have things like slack adjusters, which have to do with the brakes, we have brake linings and a host of others. So we have really been spending money to keep the buses on the road and in a fair condition that is acceptable by the Department of Transport.?

?What has happened over the past week or so, is that we have had buses operating where the income is below that of the expenditure for one reason or the other. And it is this management position that if the bus cannot pay its way, then either we need to discontinue that run or we need to look and see if indeed the bus is making the income but the income is not reaching the office. So buses that are not paying their way, I am not spending money to repair those.?

David Borland, Fired Driver
?What is very disgusting is to hear Mister Garcia get on the air and says we are not carrying in the money, this is why they have monitors on the buses, to check.?

Alofio Castillo, Fired Driver
?I mean, we noh thief nothing from here right, we just the carry in what we mek. Sometimes we barely make anything from here to Belmopan. There are times when we mek, but then you got peak times and bad times when you noh mek, so there is no way we could thief anything.?

It was not only bus drivers whose services were terminated. Benjamin Martinez worked as the senior operations supervisor at Southern Transport. This morning, his eleven year service came to an end after he received his walking papers. Martinez says because he was responsible for the bus schedule, he claims he was fired because of the driver?s actions on Wednesday.

Benjamin Martinez, Former Operations Supervisor
?I can?t force a driver to carry a bus out of this terminal if the driver knows that the bus is giving problems.?

We are cannot sure just how many passengers were left stranded at the terminal, but a number of them did express their concern and support for the bus drivers.

Passenger #1
?I want to go to Belize right now, but they noh have the bus, so I noh know weh dah the problem with the bus them. I just the hear the news about it.?

Passenger #2
?If we had known what we know today, we would not even think about riding these bus. And if you see, in southern Belize we pay the expensivess fares, but we get the worse bus to travel in this country. Especially travelling from Dangriga to Placencia, it?s unbelievable how people bear on these bus. So I think what the drivers are doing is definitely correct.?

Passenger #3
?We don?t have the good accommodation for the bus. Sometimes you riding the bus, you have to use an umbrella in the bus when it?s raining. Yes, you have to shut the window, too much water coming in, rain coming in, so we don?t have it you know.?

Passenger #4
?We need change. We cannot have this old system from 1980 on our streets. We deh dah 2000s right now, we out fi live different life. I mean we cannot see everybody punishing down here.?

Some of those passengers did get onboard James Bus Line another company that serves southern Belize. Garcia maintains that Southern Transport will remain in business and they will continue to serve the public.

In related news, today attorneys acting on behalf of the Development Finance Corporation published official notice that court action is being initiated against the Novelo family members Antonio, David and Hipolito regarding the repayment of monies and interest owed. Attempts to reach members of the Novelo family proved unsuccessful today, but we understand that the D.F.C. is now taking “the next step” in getting some of the thirty million Belize dollars it lent to the family in a group of several loans for the purpose of creating a national bus line. The Novelo family now has twenty eight days to indicate whether or not they will defend themselves in court.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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