The Belize Bus Association and several taxi associations based in Belize City met at the Coastal Zone Management Authority building on Thursday afternoon to discuss and draft alternative proposals to present to the Ministry of Transport in response to discovering the Minister, Edmond Castro, had approved runs and passenger pickups for two foreign bus companies to operate within Belize.

The agreements were revealed via documents which leaked recently and caused uproar from the Bus Association and various taxi associations which felt disenfranchised and affected by the decision to allow a Guatemalan and a Mexican bus company to pick up and transport Belizean passengers traveling to their respective countries. The associations feel that the decision, which they say is unprecedented, hurts their bottom line and takes away business which otherwise would go to Belizean owned buses and taxis.

The association had expected Minister Castro to attend Thursday’s meeting, however, they were informed he could not make it due to an emergency Cabinet meeting regarding the landmark injunction against next week’s scheduled ICJ referendum. The meeting included the Belize Bus Association with representation from bus operators throughout the country as well as the Market Square Taxi Association, Cinderella Plaza Association and the Belcan Taxi Association, representing some 250 members.

Mark Humes, chairman of the Bus Terminal/Market Square Taxi Cooperative, told the Reporter that the purpose of the meeting was to prepare a united proposal to present to the Ministry of Transport.

“Many of the operators are upset but we are here to make cooler heads prevail…and present options,” Humes said; he noted that many of the Belizean operators provide services with large air conditioned buses but are not given the considerations granted to the foreign bus companies and said the association believes Belizeans should be given as much of an opportunity as any foreign company.

Humes also noted that some operators were so frustrated they suggested some form of industrial action but he said the associations are not at that stage yet and are hopeful of a favorable response from the Ministry.

Thomas Shaw, president of the Belize Bus Association, told the Reporter that the problem of foreign buses being granted certain privileges not granted to Belizean bus operators is one that has been going on for years, despite the most recent public outcry about the issue. He further noted that Belizean buses are not even allowed to enter countries such as Mexico and Guatemala.

“Whenever these issues come up at the board level, you hear that we don’t have buses in the country to do the runs that the foreign buses are doing, which is totally false. We have reputable operators here. I must applaud my operators because they have upgraded to a certain extent where we have buses with reclining seats and air condition,” Shaw said. “If we can’t go into your country then let the taxi operators get a piece of the pie from Fort Street to the terminal or local buses get a piece of the pie from the terminal to Benque Viejo or to the northern border and then they take it from there,” Shaw added.

The Reporter