Tonight, the threatened bus strike is off - for now, at least. The Belize Bus Association had been gearing up to start burning tires this morning, but yesterday evening, the Transport Minister requested a meeting with them, which was held today.

And in that 2 hour meeting, they came to several agreements - enough to placate the association. But the most important agreement coming out of it was the proposal for a new public transportation system that boils down to this: only 6-8 bus lines across the entire country.

To break it down, basically there will be only two bus lines running in each region of the country, and every other bus line will have to merge with the chosen ones if they want to stay in the game. That also means that bus lines won't be able to expand to other parts of the country, so if you're in the north, you may never get the chance to finally catch that Floralia bus.

It also means that your preferred bus line may start running under another name, and you won't get your pick of the crop.

So how will the commuters feel about this system? Well, we'll let you hear the proposed plan from the BBA's president and you can decide.

Thomas Andy Shaw, President, BBA
"Operators, if you're listening, this is serious, we have to amalgamate and form companies and let's see how we can solve this situation due to the fact that when there's a lot of operators, there's too many calls to the ministry and so they rather deal with one or two companies whenever the permit go instead of dealing with xyz, you're dealing with one or two entity. So what we have been decided, well that was one of the recommendation made by the consultants, form cooperatives where you have two operators in the north, two in the south, it's for us now to come together, we have six months to do so in order to get all the operators on board and to let them know if you do not form cooperative or be a part of a company, then you're out the door."

Courtney Menzies:
"Let's talk the west for example, let's say Shaw's and Westline become the two buses running in the west, what then happens to other bus lines like BBOC who are large bus lines."

Thomas Andy Shaw, President, BBA
"BBOC wouldn't be out of the picture. What would happen then like maybe Sylva's and myself, we would actually align with BBOC so then maybe it would be Westline and Sylva's. The problem is the north, we have like 51 operators in the north, I just don't see how… it's going to be a task for them because most operators don't want to give up their birthright, nobody wants to operate… for me, I'm a long time operator as Shaw's, if I want to stay in the business, I have to give up my birthright."

Courtney Menzies:
"And do you think the other bus operators will be on board with this?"

Thomas Andy Shaw, President, BBA
"Well, the major operators, I don't think it's a problem, it's the smaller operators because there's a lot of operators out there as we speak that only has one run, one bus, if there's a problem, they don't have a backup bus. But when you're a company, you don't look bad in traffic because if Sylva's can't show up and you're at BBOC, BBOC just push another bus. If Shaw can't show up, Shaw doesn't look bad because the cooperative shove another bus because they're operating as one entity."

Courtney Menzies:
"Do you think the new system takes the choice away from the commuters, and I'm not just speaking about Floralia specifically, maybe in the north, they prefer Tillett and Tillett doesn't exist for example, it takes away the choice from which bus line they want to ride."

Thomas Andy Shaw, President, BBA
"Well, I do agree with you and that's left to the transport board. Now if the operators don't want to come to the table, that's where Floralia comes in because as I said, they gave the operators until 2024 for us to get our act together, when it come to choices, there's nothing wrong with that but we have fair competition and unfair competition."

And the Minister of Transport, Rodwell Ferguson, added that this plan's goal is to stop the competing bus lines - the ones who race on the road, or who take extra measures to ensure they get the most commuters. But, like Shaw, he noted that it will be a lot easier for the department for them to only need to deal with a few bus companies.

Rodwell Ferguson, Minister of Transport
"When those bus companies are formed, they will run different directions, so we mitigate the racing on the highway, everybody should be friends and working together."

"So the rest, I think we'll start the first pilot, because we always got it together, and we'll have two companies running from the west, as running in different directions so there will be no competition."

Reporter:
"So you're saying that James and Shaw might merge into the same company..."

Rodwell Ferguson, Minister of Transport
"Not James and Shaw, James can be a company in the south, and Floralia can be a company in the south and who smaller want to join with them, they join with them."

"So if James leave Belize City at midday, Floralia will leave PG at 7:00 in the morning and 7 at night."

Reporter:
"So the alternative won't be there for passengers to choose which bus they want to catch and at what price?"

Rodwell Ferguson, Minister of Transport
"Because too many operators in the country, as a matter of fact, the north have about 50 operators. How are we going to control and mitigate so many operators? So we are saying if there is two companies, then they will determine how much bus we need to put on between their time so everybody should be able to get a seat on the bus."

Courtney Menzies:
"But what if Floralia is the only bus available let's say for the south at that specific time that somebody needs to catch it and they're charging $9, or whatever?"

Rodwell Ferguson, Minister of Transport
"Right now, government regulate the price for buses, so once you put the regulation, everybody have to follow suit."

The BBA has six months to come to the table with all their members across the country and draft the first phase of this plan.

Channel 7