Cabinet decides to restrict foreign tourist buses from Mexico and Guatemala
Tourist buses originating from neighboring republics of Mexico and Guatemala have for several years had unbridled access to Belize and total freedom to pick up and drop off passengers anywhere they chose, even as Belizean drivers and tour guides are restricted in what they can do across the border. The Government of Belize says that all that will soon come to an end.
On Tuesday, March 31st, Cabinet made a firm decision that the relationships with our neighbors have to be reciprocal – meaning that whatever restrictions Guatemala and Mexico are imposing on Belize, have to be in turn imposed by Belize on their operators once they cross into our territory.
It’s a hard-line stance that is sure to create some hard feelings among the foreign bus operators, but as we go to press today the Government of Belize is in communication with their counterpart officials in Mexico and Guatemala to explain to them that Belizean bus operators are insisting on fair play.
Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Transport, Colonel George Lovell, told Amandala this morning that the new protocols will take effect on Monday, April 20. Lovell explained that there are three modes of operation, and the rules that apply to a bus will depend on which category it falls under.
Direct in-transit buses, which are destined to another Central American country but which pass through Belize, will have to carry a “manifest list,” which will be checked at both the northern and western border points to keep track of who comes in and who leaves with that bus. These buses should not drop off or pick up passengers anywhere in Belize. They will be forbidden from coming through Belize City, and have to use the Burrell Boom Road.
The second category is the charter/tour category buses – the majority of buses that transit through Belize. These include buses from El Salvador and Honduras, and they will be allowed to land passengers at the Water Taxi Terminal in Belize City, but required to use Belizean tour guides for tours in Belize.
The third category of buses, indirect in-transit buses, will be allowed only to drop off passengers at the water taxis but not to pick up new ones.
According to Lovell, since all buses will be required to have a “manifest list” of passengers, the Transport Department will be able to monitor whether the foreign operators are obeying the rules.
Those rules will be clearly mapped out by the Minister of Transport, Melvin Hulse, who Lovell told us will make new regulations, stipulating penalties for breaches.
The Transport Department will also be looking at what charges should be levied for the permits, which would be supplied to foreign operators (for a fee) certifying that they are allowed to pick up or drop off passengers in Belize. Until then, said Lovell, the status quo remains.
As we had reported last weekend, the Transport Department had invoked a sudden blockage on Wednesday, but lifted it hours later. It issued “letters of permission” giving neighboring countries until 6:00 p.m. Monday, March 29, to reach an agreement before implementing a blockage on foreign tourist buses.
Belize has evidently stepped back from that hard-line stance in that it is allowing foreign operators to continue business as usual for another three weeks, even though formal word has yet to come from officials in Guatemala and Mexico on whether they will accede to Cabinet’s new protocols.
Lovell says, however, that this extension will give Belize more time to put the new system in place and to be able to issue proper permits to foreign operators.
According to the CEO, there are very clear improvements with the new system: (1) local tour guides will now have to be used on the foreign buses and a minimum payment system will be put into effect to ensure local guides are not underpaid; (2) foreign buses will not be allowed to stop at any other point apart from the Water Taxi Terminal in Belize (whereas they have been stopping anywhere they wish to pick up and drop off tourists); and (3) permits will be issued to operators and the Transport Department will be vigilant in ensuring that foreign operators obey the new regulations.
Lovell said that he sent off a letter to counterparts abroad on Wednesday and they are now awaiting a response to see what their reaction to Cabinet’s new protocols will be.http://www.amandala.com.bz/index.php?id=8425