Commuter buses too packed; health official calls on gov’t to provide relief

Sharon Martin, Chief Health Inspector (file photo)
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The nation’s commuter buses are being filled to capacity with passengers, and the government should intervene with gasoline assistance to bus drivers in order to have reduced riders on account of Covid-19.

The call came from the Chief Health Inspector Sharon Martin during an appearance yesterday on Observer Radio’s Voice of the People.

Martin, who is one of Observer’s Persons of the Year for 2020, said bus drivers are allowing too many passengers on their buses, with scant regard for social distancing, and this is a potential stumbling block in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus.

She is suggesting that in order to avoid a Covid outbreak stemming from the crowded buses, the government should provide bus drivers with a small discount at the gasoline pumps. This would reduce their need to run vehicles with a full complement of passengers, thereby resulting in good social distancing of at least three feet.

 Martin shared, “I am still seeing buses full, and I have already made my position clear on that. It should not be, because when you get on a bus, you are actually rubbing against the person beside you, and that in itself is a health risk.

“And so, I’ll say it again, subsidise the buses with gasoline, and let them carry the number of persons, based on their capacity, that will allow for social distancing, because at the end of the day, bus drivers have families, they have children … and we don’t want to be unfair and unjust to them, and we want to get it right, because if we pack the buses … and persons get ill … [then we have a problem].”

This is not the first time that the senior health official has voiced her concerns about the lack of effective spacing on commuter buses. In fact, she spoke to that issue, and raised those very fears when the economy reopened and the spacing restrictions were relaxed in June last year.

Prior to that relaxation of the rules, in March 2020 when the shutdown first began, Keithroy Black, president of the Antigua and Barbuda Bus Association, said that his members were in agreement with the need for good social distancing.

At that time, the stipulations were that the large buses should take no more than 16 passengers, and the smaller buses, nine.

Black had also said that although the drivers would be making less money, that it was important for all parties to cooperate with the measures designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Since that time, the authorities have flip-flopped on the rules governing the number of passengers allowed on buses, the latest being that buses can carry the maximum allowed by law for their sizes.

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