Bus crisis averted


-Local operators will get more from tourists travelling in the country!
?After several months of negotiations, the Government has agreed with the Belize Bus Association to limit the number of foreign-owned buses that can conduct business in Belize. The local bus operators will start to benefit from more business opportunities because a change is coming in the form of a Statutory Instrument. It will require foreign-owned buses to drop off their passengers at the Western and Northern Borders, after which local bus or taxi operators will take over and transport those passengers while they’re in Belize.
?This was a big deal to the local operators because they are of the firm belief that they were being cheated out of a possible revenue-earning source. They believe that these foreign-owned companies from neighboring countries should not be given the opportunity to provide transportation services in Belize that locals are also able to adequately provide.
?After multiple meetings over the last few months, the Government began to see things from their perspective, but when the impending changes became public knowledge, the tourism sector began to voice concerns.
?Attorney General Senator Michael Peyrefitte discussed those concerns with the press this week.
?He explained, “Immediately after the decision we made on August 7th there was starting to be some kickback from the Mexicans from the Guatemalans, it was already affecting the local tourism industry. We felt that it was important that we would not change our mind based on the agreement we had on August 7th. We want the Taxi and the Bus Association to appreciate that when you solve that problem it created other problems.”
?Among the concerns raised by the tourism industry stakeholders was the level of service that the local operators will provide to tourists visiting Belize via these foreign-owned buses. Some of these visitors, from all over the world, have planned their trips for over a year in advance, and they’ve made arrangements with the foreign-owned buses to be transported to Belize. The tourism stakeholders wanted to be certain that the experience of these visiting travelers wouldn’t be negatively impacted by a lower quality of transportation services, should this change be implemented.
?So, to ensure that these concerns were adequately tabled and ventilated, the Government decided to postpone the implementation of a statutory instrument that would have made the foreign bus restrictions law. That sent the local operators into a frenzy, in which they began to accuse the Government attempting to frustrate the process, and so that they can walk back from their decision to implement the restriction. The local operators started planning a national shut- down of public transportation in response, should a meeting between them, representatives of the tourism stakeholder and the Government did not end favorably for them.
?That meeting occurred on Tuesday, September 3rd, and after about an hour and a half of discussions, all parties came out of the meeting to tell the waiting press that that the Government was going to move ahead with the plan to implement restrictions for the foreign-owned bus companies.
?Explaining how the statutory instrument will work, Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte said, “Because we are a part of the Central American corridor, if a Mexican bus wants to go to Guatemala and just in transit through Belize, they will present a manifest at the Mexican Border; transit through Belize; do not drop off any passengers; do not pick up any passengers; and enter Guatemala with those same passengers. One bus will enter Belize from Mexico and go to the terminal in Belize City to bring people from Mexico to Belize. There will be one stop in Orange Walk and the next stop will be in Belize City. But, the only people that will be able to get on that bus are people who have tickets internationally. So for you to get on that bus in Belize City, you must be going to Mexico. If you get on that bus in Orange Walk you must be going to Mexico and the same thing in the western corridor. You get on that bus in Belize City you must be going to Guatemala with one stop in Belmopan for people who want to go to Guatemala from Belmopan. But, there will be no stops along the way to pick up people for other stops within Belize especially.”
?Reacting to the positive outcome for local bus owners, Thomas Shaw, the President of the Belize Bus Association said, “We are satisfied. It has been a long haul and I want to say a big thank you to G.O.B. for actually listening to us. And as I said at times we got frustrated and we thought that it would actually never happen but in reality, tomorrow [September 4th], the AG stated that this SI will be signed.”
?There will be a trial period for about five weeks with these new restrictions, and all parties involved will observe to ensure that all unforeseen consequences of the decision does not have any major, negative impact on the tourism industry. If those impacts can be mitigated, the restrictions will be maintained. If the impacts cannot be mitigated, then all sides return back to discussions on how to proceed.
?The local bus operators are now making the logistical preparations to be ready to take over from the foreign-owned bus companies, who will drop off their passengers at the border, if those passengers intend to visit a destination in Belize. They assure that the quality of transportation services that they will provide to these passengers will be equivalent to the foreign-own companies.
Also speaking on the issue was Minister of Transport, Hon. Edmond Castro who explained that “the general Belizean population are looking out for a better quality of service from them as well. We are accommodating them to take over the tourists coming into our country whether it’s from the northern or western border or wherever, but also the general public out there need a better transportation system.” He singled out the lack of order by the operators who more often than not overcrowd buses and have passengers board buses without tickets. He continued, “I want to see better busses in our country. I want to see that we the general population out there also have nice busses like the busses they will provide to go and pick up the tourists at the western border and the busses that they will replace going to the northern border.”