Minibuses, or as they are more commonly called, "busitos," have become an institution among Belizeans living in the villages and towns along the George Price Highway. The service, which originally began to pick up the passengers that the larger buses could not during peak periods, has become a popular mode of transportation. So popular, that the service is now beginning to compete with the larger bus companies. For the last couple of years, the "busitos" were able to operate from six in the morning to six at night, but recently the Ministry of Transport has made a change that has left the operators concerned. We spoke to members of the Western Minibus Owners Cooperative Society Limited about what has them so worried…
Giovanni Mejia – Vice President, Western Minibus Owners Cooperative Society Limited "My concern is that we had a letter issued from the Department of Transport yesterday, stating to us that they going to cut our runs from 6 in the morning to 9 am in the morning, and from 3 to 6pm in the evening. Probably, they cutting us six hours for the day. And the Belmopan cooperative is very concerned about this situation that is happening to us, right? And the reason we are here, we are very concerned and the whole group is very concerned about it and even the commuters out there in the surrounding village, surrounding Belmopan. And, we are bringing it forward because it happens that we are not getting response from the Department of Transport and they are dictating us right in this letter that they gonna cut out 6 hours for the day, which in the commuters are very very present of what is happening throughout the day, the whole day, right. And, we as busito owners, are concerned also about it, concerning our loans that we have in the bank. We already borrowed loan from the bank, we have issued- they have issued us a road service permit for two years to run the busitos them throughout surrounding in Belmopan, the villages which in is from Ontario, Tea Kettle, Camalote, Roaring Creek, Belmopan. Then we have also from Mahogany Heights, St. Mathew's, Cotton Tree, Belmopan. We have from St. Margaret, Armenia, to Belmopan. And we have, they have cutting us 6 hours for the day not to run."
Adelso Munoz - Busito Operator "My concern is that they want put a- they want to set this working hours that the gentleman was saying before me, from 6-9 and then from 3-6, that wouldn't work. It will not work in my village. And I will like to challenge Minister Castro to come to my village, even if I have to pay his day pay, I willing to do so, just to make him be at the bus stop, fu see if the bus will stop at the bus stop or not.
Many drivers took out loans to buy their minibuses, and rely on the money they make to pay off the loans, along with their other bills. With the cut in driving time, a few are beginning to wonder how they will make ends meet:…
"Mr. Mejia just break down for us, in terms of the monies that you guys will lose out if they take away those six hours. Break down for us what that looks like in terms of monies.
Giovanni Mejia – Vice President, Western Minibus Owners Cooperative Society Limited "Well the money part is, sometimes we balance is, we mek, the percentage we make is maybe $250 per day. Some mek $160, some make $180. It all depends how the day stands, how the commuters travel from one area to the next area. "
Courtney Weatherburne "So if they take away those six hours, what do you think or estimate you guys will lose?"
Giovanni Mejia – Vice President, Western Minibus Owners Cooperative Society Limited "Well it will affect us big time. Why I say it is because, there are runs that you might probably mek a $10 or $15 for one run. And if they cut us the three hours, then we might only probably do three runs for the day, three or six runs for the day- that will bring us up to $60 or $80, the most. That needs to be very concerned about it because how will you pay for the loan at the bank."
Courtney Weatherburne "Right. You have your loan. Talk to us about taking care of your families, the wear and tear for the buses..."
Giovanni Mejia – Vice President, Western Minibus Owners Cooperative Society Limited "That is a next concern that will affect, probably me and my other members from cooperative. We bills that we have to pay at home, you understand? We got light, we got water, we got cable, we got other stuff. We got expense at home and I noh think we weh reach that, if the Department of National Transport do we that. It will not reach what we does mek before."
Courtney Weatherburne "What do you think of this proposed move by the Minister?
Adelso Munoz - Busito Operator "I think it's a bad move that he's doing, you know. He should go from village to village and see if this will work out or not before he takes a decision like the one that he's taking right now. "
Reporter "How will this affect you personally? Have you gotten a loan from the bank as well, to buy your shuttle? How will this affect you personally and your way of living?"
Adelso Munoz - Busito Operator "It will affect me big time. It will cut me down big time and it will be hard if this really takes place because how are we gonna pay our loans, how are we gonna send out children to school? How are we gonna feed our children."
The "busito" drivers are also angry because they were never consulted or warned about the change. According to Mejia, the first time they heard that their hours would be cut, was when the Minister of Transport, Edmond Castro told them it had been finalized. Well, here's what Minister Castro has to say about the situation…
While Minister Castro feels that there is no issue, the busito drivers don't agree. The Minibus Owners Cooperative has sought legal advice to plan their next move.
So, what will these changes do? According to the Co-op, it will take more than half of their earnings and compound the transportation problems for villagers like those in Armenia who need to move within the surrounding areas of Belmopan.
Adelso Munoz, Armenia Vice Chairman & Mini Bus Operator
“It will not work in my village. I would like to challenge the Minister Castro to come to my village even if I have to pay his day pay, I am willing to do so. Just to make him be at the bus stop to see if the bus will stop or not. The people at my village are gonna suffer, too. I am talking about the way of transportation because the buses doesn’t stop for them. They have been suffering for years and years. I have four years living in the village and it is blessing for them because I have this shuttle business.My people in Armenia are not happy with that they are planning to do, right. We just received a letter yesterday saying that starting this seventeenth on the Monday, we have to abide by these laws that we can only work three hours in the morning and three hours in the evening.”
“So, now explain to me, will there be other buses that will be filling those slots – the hours that they are taking away from you?”
“Just the big buses that comes from PG and Dangriga, but they don’t stop in my village.”
“So, they are taking away these hours to “make business” for the bigger buses?”
“I think that is the idea of the minister.”
“In terms of the monies that you guys will lose out if they take away these six hours, break down for us what this looks like in terms of the monies?”
Giovanni Mejia, Vice Chairman, Mini Bus Owners Cooperative
“Well the money part, sometimes the percentage we make is two hundred and fifty for the day. Some make one-sixty or one-eighty. It all depends on how the day stands because of how commuters that are traveling from one area to the next area.”
“But if they take away those six hours, what do you think or estimate you guys will earn?”
“It will affect us big time. Why I say this, there are runs that you will probably make a ten dollars or fifteen dollars for one run and if they cut us three hours, then we will probably do three or six runs for the day and that will only bring us to sixty or eighty dollars the most.”
The bus operators are seeking legal advice and will be meeting with an attorney over the weekend because they say the breach of their permits is not settling well them.