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#422374 - 11/17/11 03:08 PM Thoughts on busses....
Marty Offline
by GMike

There are many problems facing Belize at this time and unfortunately, few are being addressed in any practical or proficient manner. If we are to move forward as a nation, this will have to change. One major problem that has lingered for too long and that continues to be ignored by the authorities and tolerated by the public is the chaotic bus transportation industry. Those in charge have either ignored or exacerbated the conditions while those affected seem to have taken the path of least resistance. We will need to “park our sacred cows at the door” and at some point, enter into a room of full and frank discussion about this issue.

A couple of years ago, much was made about a loan given to the Novelo Brothers to implement what was to become in effect, a national bus company. The then government recognized the need to improve on the status quo and endeavored on a plan to urge and facilitate better service for commuters. Notwithstanding the questions surrounding the process involved in the dispensation of the loan but in viewing the bigger picture, it was a commonsensical approach to a critical and pressing problem.

It was a time when accidents involving buses were all too common and many of these accidents were as a result of racing on the highways. This happens when there are too many individually owned buses operating on any particular route. The rationale was that one company, properly equipped and operated, could provide a more orderly and safe environment for commuters. It is not unique. Despite its huge size, the bus industry in the United States is virtually dominated by the duopoly of Greyhound and Trailways. Smaller operators are confined to short-haul suburban routes which make for a much more organized and efficient industry. For their part, government imposes regulations for safety, ticket pricing and the financing of road construction. Makes good sense to me!

What the Novelo’s brothers did was to purchase all the major runs from existing operators and proceeded to set up terminals countrywide. One could visit the terminals and buy tickets or call ahead for run schedules. An express service was implemented and a more modern and comfortable line of luxury buses were slowly but steadily being introduced. Today, except for James Bus Line which offers I believe one such luxury bus, most of those being used are dilapidated, rejected school buses salvaged from the junk yards of America. Because they were designed specifically for children and short runs, they offer very little leg room and some very uncomfortable seats. Really, is this all that we deserve?

Interestingly enough, when a few of these same operators decided to branch into tourism, they made sure to bring in some decent and comfortable buses. One can visit the Marine Parade on any given ship-day and see dozens of these quality buses lined up and waiting to ferry tourists from one destination to the next. Is it that they deserve the quality but we don’t? We must begin to demand more.

Previous PUP governments have left us the legacy of a network of some pretty decent cross country roads. There was a time when bus operators could complain that the road conditions would exact expensive wear and tear on their buses but that is no longer true. Today, (except for the Hummingbird which is being torn to tatters by heavy oil tankers) roads to all six districts are properly paved and suitable to accommodate the very best of vehicles. Ask our government ministers and heads of departments; they all have the latest high-end and late model luxury vehicles.

This now, might very well explain the lack of interest in improving the quality of public transportation in our country. Bus service is usually associated with the young, in particular students, the elderly, the poor, minority groups and women. Though for many it is perceived as a secondary mode of transportation, buses continue to provide crucial services for the vast majority of Belizeans. What we really should do is to demand that these government officials be required to ride public transportation at least a few times every month. Have you ever seen Dean Barrow, or even Melvin Hulse for that matter, riding a bus? They need to get a first-hand experience of how difficult and challenging it is for regular folks to move from point A to point B.

A month or so ago, Belizeans raised concern about a Mexican bus company that was launching a service between Belize and Merida with a stop in Cancun. Bus operators from the north were concerned that a foreign company would gobble up the limited commuters upon which they survived. That is a fair concern but if Belizeans operators were to offer the same quality of service and buses, there would be no need for foreign operators. I will be honest, if I had a choice between the comfortable air-conditioned buses offered by ADO and the rickety ride of a distressing Belizean transport, you will have to consider me unpatriotic but I will be paying my way in pesos.

As Belizeans, I believe that we have become too accustomed and comfortable with mediocrity. We will have to stand and shout in a louder voice for a fairer share of this pie. It is not unreasonable, it is our GOD given right. Any operator that wishes to bring in any bus from this point on should be required to meet a reasonably acceptable standard. Sergio Chuc was recently given major concessions to import another fleet of these deplorable roughriders. Please missa man, you’re already taxing us excessively and taking us on a journey through hell. At least allow us a more comfortable ride as we go.

--
G. Michael Reid
Citizen of the world

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#422375 - 11/17/11 03:09 PM Re: Thoughts on busses.... [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline
From Mary Toy

Comfortable, scheduled buses that run from Belize International to various points around the country including San Ignacio/Belmopan and Dangriga/Hopkins/Placencia/PG would also tremendously help the tourism industry, especially smaller, locally owned hotels. Right now, it costs US$755 for a family of 4 to fly round-trip between Belize International and Placencia. That’s essentially another international airfare – or 3-7 nights of lodging costs in moderate priced or more budget hotels. I believe we could increase our tourism revenue if that same family could pay maybe US$120 (or less) round-trip. It should also stimulate the increase of business at Goldson while people wait for buses. We complain about the cost of international flights, but here’s something that could be done in-country to help induce more budget minded travelers to visit Belize. Shouldn’t hurt the local airlines, either, since they wouldn’t be losing business that wasn’t being brought into the country, anyway. Reducing the cost of the fuel for local airlines would also be another way to increase tourist dollars we could get from more middle income tourists.

===============
from Lan Sluder:

Good ideas, but I suspect it would be tough to implement an affordable bus system from the international airport, given the likely opposition of taxi, shuttle, car rental, local airline and even some bus interests.

I don't know how much of a role post-arrival transportation costs play in the decision to visit Belize. In my experience, people planning to visit Belize do worry about the air cost to Belize, and, yes, they commonly have questions about how to get from the airport to various points in the country. But a lot of people do a little internet research and figure they'll just take a shuttle to San Ignacio or fly to San Pedro, or if they're on a tighter budget they'll think about taking a bus from Belize City or a water taxi to Caulker/San Pedro. It doesn't seem to be a deal killer for most people in the way that US$600 to $900 per-person round-trip fares from the U.S. can be.

Placencia, Hopkins and PG are more of an issue, because shuttles to these destinations are more expensive and less frequent, multiple buses are a pain and as you say flying is costly, as is renting a car, usually an older car at that.

=======================
from Mary Toy:

I know, but G Mike was talking about looking at these issues realistically and not politically.

Also, while the in-country transport costs may not be a big issue for San Pedro or San Ignacio, they are for the south. We do not even HAVE a shuttle service, the bus system is unreliable (and requires a lot of time), car rentals are costly, as is airfare.

In addition, a trip to Belize is sometimes the first foray of a family outside the US or Canada, so they want all of their transfers set up ahead of time. They want to know where they need to be, who will pick them up, how long it will take, etc. And, to do that, they have to use air transfers, and in the case of jungle lodges, private lodge transfers. Believe me, it adds up – way up – even on a trip split between the jungle and San Pedro. For the same hypothetical family of four, airfare between Belize International and San Pedro is currently US$513. Jungle transfers are going to be around US$170 each way (with GST). If they split the trip, their San Pedro air transfers will be closer to US$550 now that one-way airfare is more expensive than round-trip, plus US$340 for the round-trip jungle transfers and you’ve now added almost another US$1,000 onto the cost of the vacation.

================

from Lan Sluder:

Just to clarify, I'm not saying internal transportation costs and hassle aren't a problem.

I am saying that in my personal experience with visitors thinking about coming to Belize they usually don't PERCEIVE it as a problem before they arrive, especially not the cost. True, they may be worried a little about the logistics of buses, shuttles, water taxis, etc.

But if for visitors internal transport to all destinations in Belize suddenly was made easy and affordable I don't know if that would increase tourism much when there are other more important issues on their minds, such as safety, high cost of air transport to Belize and the overall perceived high cost of accommodations, food and tours.

PERCEPTION that Belize City is a free-fire zone, round-trip airfares to Belize that are higher than to Europe or Hawaii, US$400 hotel rooms, US$350 per person trips to the Blue Hole and US$200 per person trips to Lamanai -- those are the issues that seem to be holding back tourists from making the Belize decision.

=============

from Mary Toy:

That may be true (and probably is), but once someone has added Belize to their list of “maybe” vacation destinations and is doing research into costs, this comes into play, as well as when people are trying to decide among possible vacation destinations. And, we’re talking about a lot of people in both groups, so it definitely has an effect on Belize tourism. Plus, transfer costs are definitely a consideration when someone decides where to go in Belize after he or she has decided on Belize for his or her vacation.

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#422693 - 11/20/11 09:00 PM Re: Thoughts on busses.... [Re: Marty]
Don Greife Offline
I'm on Marty's side on this one.
I've been a frequent visitor to Bz for several years (4/6) times per year) just to fly fish. Not being among the (1%) financially, I make my trips as frugle as possible. I don't stay at the "All Inclusive" places and save about HALF. San Pedro has that to offer. Personally, I'd like to see two things happen. 1) A reliable, comfortable, express bus leave BZE, 30 minutes after the early Continental flight lands, headed for Placincia. 2)Have someone build a "FlyFishers" web site which brings together the local small "independant" hotels pictures/rates etc with the local "independant" fly fishing guides with their boats pictures/rates. While I appreciate that the 1% make up a hugh part of BZ tourism crown, there are 99% of us left. There is little doubt in my mind that the GOB could make some profound changes to tourism if they were so of mind. Don Greife, frequent visitor. Also, I feel that customs has become an unreasonable hastle to frequent visitors like myself.
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#422748 - 11/21/11 05:44 AM Re: Thoughts on busses.... [Re: Marty]
ScubaLdy Offline
Don - It looks like a fly in the making
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#422838 - 11/22/11 02:19 AM Re: Thoughts on busses.... [Re: Marty]
Cooper Offline
The drive from Belmopan to Dangriga on the Hummingbird Hwy is such a beautiful drive. On the bus its a nightmare. I stopped, and refuse to take this route on the bus about 4 yrs agao. One experience was when after a white knuckled ride the bus driver was all kool about bragging everytime he does the run he has to beat his last time, Mr. Macho..
The last time I took the run it was with the same driver, this was a late afternoon trip with school children that at times were screaming and crying. Mr Macho again said to the ticket cash collector, I beat my time. It should not be a conquest for the bus driver. The Hummingbird Hwy is a jewel here in Belize, just beautiful..the drive could be promoted if folks could feel safe enough to enjoy the ride.
My in laws were here not long ago and took the bus ride to Dangriga, I slipped a note in thier suitcase saying ..sorry not to have warned you... They did laugh but did not enjoy the high speed bus ride and flew back.
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