Busmen battle to balance safety with income

Bus drivers expressed concerns ranging from contagion fears to plummeting income (Photo by Adia Wynter)
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By Adia Wynter

Bus drivers have been speaking out about their return to the roads amidst the Covid-19 pandemic – with some revealing fears of contagion from driving a full vehicle.

They told Observer the journey has been rough compared to pre-pandemic days. Upon returning to the bus stations, drivers faced various issues that made daily operations more difficult than they expected.

In line with the nation’s health and safety protocols, they were not allowed to operate at full capacity for three months in order to maintain social distancing.

“It has been very slow,” one driver explained. “But we all understand the situation so it’s not much for me to complain about.”

The Antigua and Barbuda Transport Board released a letter in late June addressed to bus operators as well as the general public stating that all buses were now allowed to carry the maximum number of passengers that they are licensed for.

However, drivers say that, despite having received the go-ahead to function at full seating capacity, there are fewer people willing to ride the bus due to the pandemic.

One operator, Vere Ferris, said, “Passengers are not travelling like before. Before, you used to get five to seven trips a day. Right now, we’re getting only about three to four trips a day.”

Some drivers say they are not comfortable at the idea of being in a full bus.

“I heard that we can operate fully, but I’m not comfortable operating at a full level for now because all the passengers are relatively close to each other. I, for one, don’t need somebody close to me in front, and I don’t care for anybody sitting at the back of me either,” one said.

Another problem being faced, according to Veronica Andrew, president of the North-East Bus Association, is the lack of water pipes available for drivers and passengers alike to sanitise prior to boarding buses.

“From the beginning of this… we were told that we would have had pipes put in place up at the East Bus Station. Not up to this day, there hasn’t been any pipes,” Andrew said.

The lack of hand washing stations is an issue for them, but Andrew mentioned that the restrooms lack running water as well.

“I have my things to clean my hands. I can’t clean all the passengers’ hands at the end of the day, and when you go to the washroom, pipe is off,” she explained.

“We need pipes put in place up here so that passengers and bus drivers on a whole can do their washing of hands,” Andrew added.

Chief Health Inspector Sharon Martin, in an interview with Observer yesterday, responded to questions regarding bus protocols.

She said, “All bus drivers should be equipped with the hand sanitising agent… I will organise some officers to go to West Bus Station to see that each bus driver has in his possession a hand sanitising agent.”

She added that she would also speak to Transport Board officers to ensure that drivers are complying with sanitation rules.

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