The economic news continues to be grim; the unprecedented impact and the effects of the novel coronavirus are reverberating throughout the economy. In fact, even before the crisis hit Belize, businesses were having trouble balancing their budgets. As we have reported, this week’s layoffs in the local airline industry are unparalleled, as the industry struggles to survive. Public transportation was hit hard since the early days of the pandemic when the lock down and curfew were imposed. Today, as much as ten million dollars in losses have brought the struggling bus industry to its knees. Here is News Five’s Isani Cayetano with a report.
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
Along the country’s principal thoroughfares, passenger buses are once again on the go. Despite scheduled runs departing from cities and towns, this sector of the public transportation industry is operating at a deficit. Bus owners say that as much as ten million dollars was last during the period of the previous state of emergency when they were not allowed to operate.
Ewart Metzgen, Secretary, Belize Bus Association.
“It has been devastating, the industry has been devastated by COVID-19 in the sense that the industry has laid off up to this point around eighty percent of its workers are still laid off. We are working around thirty or thirty-five percent countrywide, the bus industry is only operational at around thirty or thirty-five percent. Over the last six weeks or so, the industry has lost a bit over ten million dollars, if you put figures together. So all in all, the industry is taking a licking. Da like weh sohn people woulda seh eena Creole, wih deh right da gravy. Wih deh pan life support.”
Despite turning to the Barrow Administration for assistance, bus owners are essentially on their own since government itself is financially burdened.
“We are at a point where we know the government is not able to help us because we‘ve been there, we‘ve been talking, sitting down with the people from the Department of Transport trying to see how, as the association, we can get some assistance for our operators but so far it has been to no avail and we are trying to see maybe, like in an interview I did a couple weeks ago from my home, that I still have a bit of hope that maybe we can have a little sit down maybe with the FinSec or the PM himself and maybe by us sitting down with him and throwing out the figures to him and letting them see exactly where we‘re coming from, probably then we‘ll be able to, they‘d find some way to assist us.”
Operating a daily bus run from Orange Walk to Belize City, Joel Armstrong continues to incur losses. Not only is his run within the curfew period, the cost of doing businesses when there are very few passengers onboard means he also has to drive his own buses.
Joel Armstrong, Owner, Armstrong Bus Line
“It has been very difficult because I have a run out of Orange Walk at four-thirty in the morning, and as you know, that falls under the curfew. So I had to dialogue with some people from the Transport [Department] to try to get a later run so that you could try to feed your family because, you know, sometimes some people may look at a bus owner and say he doesn‘t have needs because he owns buses and he has a lot of money but that is not true.”
For Armstrong, the Vice President of the Belize Bus Association, looking at the runs coming into and leaving Belize City, the commercial hub, the numbers aren’t quite there.
“The numbers are just not adding up and then you know, sooner or later I might have to stop run the bus because ah noh have money fi continue to suffice the bus run.”
The industry, notwithstanding the existing runs is only running at thirty percent of its capacity and getting it back to some degree of where it was prior to COVID-19 will also take a minimum of two years.
“The bus industry will never go back to pre-COVID. It has changed, the dynamics have changed. We can‘t go back to that.”