Bus Runs in Jeopardy With Nat’l SOE
At the start of the COVID-19 scare in Belize, just before the first confirmed case of the coronavirus was detected, we told you how there was a disruption in the regular services. Bus companies were already prepared to discontinue operations until further notice. But, the Ministry of Transport was able to smooth things over with the operators countrywide for the re-establishment service. This weekend, the bus operators announced again that they would stop running after Sunday.
We were informed that the bus companies deployed their usual runs on Saturday, but, they found the terminals closed. They didn't need much to quit; they had been requesting a fuel subsidy from the government to remain operational, and some of the owners reportedly took issue with the fact that a few select companies were approved, instead of an across-the-board allocation to all operators.
We spoke with Transport Minister Edmond Castro today to seek clarification on those reports. But, our conversation with him focused instead on the financial viability of these bus companies remaining operational in a time when all non-essential travel has been shut down due to the curfew regulations. Here's what he told us via telephone this evening:
Hon. Edmond Castro - Minister of Transport
"It's a state of emergency. So, every 24 hours, sometime, the dynamics change. So, we had agreed upon - because the Bus Owners Association had put out that they would cease and desist effective money. So, over the weekend, I had put together to skeleton run that would run from t PG, Independence, Dangriga, Belmopan, and from Benque, all the way to Belize City, and likewise in the north. Since then things changed. As it stands right now, we're looking at shutting off the Caye District. So, what we had agreed upon over the weekend, things drastically changed. There was not the shutdown of the western corridor. Now, that is a reality. However, if we have buses operating from the south coming to Belize City. They will not be allowed to stop in the Cayo District. So, I don't see how it will even become possible for them to even operate shortly. The dynamics change every 24 hours. As soon as we get more reports that we have COVID-19 spotted in this area or this area, we have to move toward different dynamics. So, even what we had agreed upon is getting really dicey because no bus will be allowed to operate outside of the Cayo District, for sure. So, I don't know how it might be possible and profitable for Westline to be operating within Cayo District only."
"Only essential workers, and we're looking at the possibility of different frontline workers to facilitate their employees in terms of getting to and from work."
"For now, we still have that skeleton crew running in the north. however, I don't see how - there's not much of a movement, as it relates to - when you look at the data - 4 people on a bus, coming from Corozal to Orange Walk, 7 people on a bus. I don't see how that is viable. Like what I said on Sunday, even I was giving you full fuel for the day, and your responsibility was to pay your driver and you conductor, and you're taking 4 people from Corozal, or 7 people from Corozal to Belize City, I don't see how you can pay your driver or your conductor. So, if you're not making the money to pay your basic cost, no dollar or 2 dollars off the price of fuel, or the duty exemption off the price of fuel will allow you to stay on the run. So, as the business owner, if you do not have the volume, and you cannot make a profit, or at least break even, I don't see, as a wise businessman, why you should even be on the road. It makes absolutely no sense."
As you heard, there are still a few buses running in the northern and southern districts, but the Minister is unsure of how long they will continue due to financial constraints.