The gears are shifting in the Transport Ministry and once again, there seems to be issues regarding permits given for prime runs in the West to a preferred company, West Line. West Line is once again in a tug of war with the Belize Bus Owners Cooperative (BBOC) over runs. The Transport Ministry could not stop the situation from escalating in 2011 when roads were blocked and tires burned on the highways. The players are the same but one major shift has occurred within the ministry. The new board is chaired by Merlene Bailey Martinez, and it is focused on having the highways populated with roadworthy buses, a ticketing system and uniforms for the drivers. But all is still not well and News Five spoke to the President of the Belizean Bus Association about the future of the country’s highways.

Duane Moody, Reporting

There appears to be a shake up in the transport department that has bus operators on the edge. Through the Ministry of Transport, the new board that is now chaired by Merlene Bailey Martinez has issued the conditions of road service permits that bus owners must fulfill before being granted licenses to operate.

Thomas Shaw, President, Belizean Bus Association

“The minister had stated about all the requirements and basically it is nothing that the association is against because we need to excel, we need to provide better service out there. In terms of the ticketing, yes some of the operators were actually against it, but as the president, I try to. Whenever a passenger buys a ticket, it assures you of a seat and I think what the department of transport is trying to do is to alleviate the crowding, the rushing in and out of the terminals.”

Thomas Shaw

Several permits have not been renewed. But the problems are erupting because at least three routes up for renewal by the Belize Bus Owners Cooperative (BBOC) are in danger of being cancelled. The permits have been issued to West Line, a company owned by Sergio Chuc.

Thomas Shaw

“One of my members, namely from the BBOC, gave me a call stating that the 3:30, 3:45 and 4 o’clock run was actually given to Sergio Chuc. I did go back to the board and had a discussion on that and the chairlady said that the board will have to look into it. She asked me if BBOC had the permit to do that run. I said I am not sure. So I got in touch with the chairman of the BBOC and yes they did have a copy of the permit of the runs they were presently doing, it was just a matter of renewal. I think that is the dispute up here in the area right now. What they are saying is that these runs have already been given to Sergio Chuc and it has already been paid for; but nobody else has received a permit or hasn’t paid for a run.”

It has been confirmed that West Line has been awarded permits for the runs. And if the name Chuc sounds familiar; that is because a little over a year ago, in May of 2011, issues involving his West Line service and BBOC, culminated with fiery blockade along the Northern and Western highways that prompted the intervention of Prime Minister Dean Barrow.

Jose Cabrera, Bus Operator [File: May 27th, 2012]

“Well we are expecting fair treatment and respect because we are in this business for so long and hopefully, like I tell you, I am a person who likes to think positive and be realistic with what’s going on here in Belize.”

Jose Cabrera

Andrea Polanco

“When you say fair treatment, what exactly the bus operators expect this morning?”

Jose Cabrera

“Well we want our runs like it is right now. Like I tell the president, we want to stable something that we want our original runs.

Thomas Shaw [File: May 27th, 2011]

“We had a meeting briefly with the Prime Minister at ten this morning; Mister Frazer and myself. Thereafter, I went back to my operators and basically, the outcome of the meeting that I held wit h the Prime Minister when I went back them, some of my operators are still not totally in agreement with the arrangement that Mister Frazer as the BBOC stating that he would try to compromise. The position with the operators from the west; that they wanted this operator, Chuc’s West Line to be removed immediately as I pointed out in the letter previously presented to the minister.”

And while Shaw was diplomatic about the issue of BBOC losing its runs to West Line, he says that he supports the move to improve the transport system and will dialogue with the membership on Thursday to chart a way forward.

Thomas Shaw

“Tomorrow we will be having a meeting with our operators; they’ll be bringing in their concerns in writing as to what is taking place and what they are experiencing at the moment. From there I will take it to the ministry to the board and have a discussion about it.”

Duane Moody for News Five.

The BBA and the BBOC will continue to dialogue with the Ministry of Transport in the Capital.

Channel 5