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Mar 24, 2020

Many Bus Operators Suspend Operations

Several large bus operators announced that they were halting services between their base and Belize City. Others have decided to reduce the number of buses operating, so they have adjusted their schedules. The decision was met with concern and praises online. Today, we spoke with Secretary of the Belize Bus Association, Ewart Metzgen, who shed some light into the bus owners’ decisions. He shared that while commuters may have received the sudden notice, they understand the needs and are hoping to get some of the bus lines back on the road until they are allowed to do so. Here’s the story.


Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Following the announcement of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Belize, a number of bus lines announced that they were suspending their services. Those notices sent commuters into frenzy. Many of the bus lines, including five of the large operators out of the north like Morales and Tillett Bus Lines have taken their buses off the road – but the Belize Bus Association says that while the decision was sudden they want to talk to these members to try to restore limited service for some areas. Secretary of the BBA says that the decision ultimately came down to the bus operators to put health and safety first.


Ewart Metzgen

Ewart Metzgen, Secretary, BBA

“I think they are just fearful for their workers and their families. We have to be honest with ourselves. I don’t think our country is ready for it and I don’t think that we have the equipment that is needed if this thing spread around. Because we are somewhat you say on the frontline in transportation, we move people all around over the country. The five larger operators of the north have pulled back. I myself have tried to get through to Emil Grinage, the managing operations manager of Morales but I haven’t gotten response as yet. I am trying to see if I can get through to the Tillett brothers to see if we can put one or two buses, at least so that we have one or two buses operating until the government say we can’t be operating any further. It was abrupt and on my part I think we should have maybe given the people a heads up on what we would be doing, hence the reason for us now to try to speak with these owners in the north and try to see if they could at least one or two buses back and we space them off an hour in between.”


Metzgen says that decision wasn’t easy to make but bus operators stand to lose too much and they have yet to hear if bus operators will receive any relief. He points out that bus operators have been feeling the pinch over the last few days because of the reduced number of passengers traveling.


Ewart Metzgen

“A lot of people have been operating at a loss because we have less people traveling and so I think that was one of the major steps that said for them to pull back until things get better or maybe when we can get some sort of relief from the government. It is not that we want to do it but we look at it as necessary step in us helping to reduce people moving around and spreading the disease, although we only have one confirmed case in the country.   Some of us will stay for as long as we can financially support it because with everything else, because what is killing right now that much people aren’t travelling is the cost of fuel. We can continue running and we get some sort of support in that aspect where we can sustain keeping the buses on the road because the fuel takes two-thirds of whatever you make out there. Operational cost for a day for one bus is around four hundred and fifty and five hundred dollars a day to operate one bus and that is without you making a dollar. So, it just economics of it and that is one of the bigger things that operators are looking at.”


Preventative measure of social distancing is almost impossible for bus operators to do – and neither would it make financial sense for bus operators.  Metzgen explains:


Ewart Metgzen

“The largest bus seats sixty persons and we have very few buses that seat sixty persons; they are between fifty-two and fifty-six seaters – two in a seat. Standing, if you have all adults standing, you can maybe fit eighteen to twenty persons standing. So, you are looking at about seventy-six persons on a bus. Now, we have said that we don’t need the standees but in order to recover costs you will need to carry at least the seating capacity. But with that I am asking the public that if you know you have any sort of flu symptoms; sneezing; coughing; not to be travelling on the buses because this will start to affect other passengers and this is one of our greatest fears. On our part, we are sanitizing as the Ministry had asked us to spray our buses. We are using Clorox and Zaflora to wipe our seats and spray the buses when we reach the different terminals. We need the travelling public to do their part and know if they are ill not to travel.”


While many operators have cancelled runs for the time being, there are still a few others on the highways but they are operating fewer runs. Operators like BBOC, James Bus Line, West Line and Shaw’s and a few others have cut down the number of buses on the road. Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.


Earlier today President of the B.B.A., Andy Shaw met with Ministry of Transport officials. We were unable to reach Shaw by telephone this evening but will attempt to get an update about that meeting in our newscast on Wednesday.

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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