Statutory Instrument one-seventy-five of 2020 came into effect on December twentieth, with restrictions for not only public, but also private transportation, which it says is for the purposes of preventing, controlling, containing and suppressing the spread of the infectious COVID-19.  It speaks to the mandatory wearing of face masks during travel in public or private vehicles or buses and even water taxis.  Section eighteen of the S.I. says that the seating capacity is limited to fifty percent even for private transportation. That limitation is not sitting well with San Pedro Belize Express, who since the pandemic has already cut down on the number of runs to and from the islands. Marketing Manager Shameka Pennil says that their bottom-line is being affected because the number of passengers is to be reduced, but the amount and cost of fuel per run remains unchanged.

Shameka Pennill, Marketing Manager, San Pedro Belize Express

“It’s definite going to affect us as a water taxi because as you all know, our overhead cost is different from the buses. We are actually more; it is really expensive to operate one specific run. To tell us to operate with fifty percent. For the most part, our normal size boat is about a hundred. So if we go at fifty percent, and we are looking at fifty passengers on that vessel; it is going to be very inconvenient for our customers because if we have seventy or sixty, those persons will have to wait and we will definitely be unable to send out an extra boat to accommodate those customers. So it is very inconvenient to our customers as well as like I said the overhead cost is too expensive to operate at fifty percent.”

Restrictions Threaten Jobs of Water Taxi Employees

Since the COVID-19 pandemic in Belize, runs to and from San Pedro were stopped temporarily. When the lockdown was lifted for Ambergris Caye, traffic to the island resumed, but it is still not where it used to be. Runs have been cut by half and the company is working on a skeleton staff.  While the new S.I. is being reviewed by the management of the water taxi, Pennill fears that the new restrictions might see more employees terminated.

Shameka Pennill, Marketing Manager, San Pedro Belize Express

“Since the entire COVID-19 thing, we have seen a drastic decrease in customers so with this, it is going to get even worse. So in the long term it is very unsustainable to operate. We were operating with eight daily runs; we are down to five, so with this fifty percent—well the managers are still in discussion—but we are just looking at all ends. But it is definitely going to affect us, it’s going to affect our customers. We would like the governing bodies, when you make those discussions, include us so we can voice our opinions with the business because it is not looking good.  Are you guys going to subsidising for the other half; are you guys going to lower the fuel price to help combat what you are saying. So we would like to be included in the discussion to see how we can get help as well to function because we play a vital role in transferring from the island to mainland. So I think that we are a very essential part of the entire country.”

Duane Moody

“….not to mention the staff that you guys have.”

Shameka Pennill

“That’s another thing. We are already down to what we call a skeleton staff.  It’s like a hundred and odd all the way to…if we have thirty employees we are good. We are really down to a basic staff right now and cracking down more, then you would have more employees unemployed because we cannot maintain operating with the fifty percent and keeping all the employees on staff.”

Channel 5