By Michelle Sutherland
Belizean bus owners have decided to strike against high fuel costs that have diminished their profits, Belize Bus Association (BBA)’s Secretary Ewart Metzgen told The Reporter Thursday.
“Our membership has decided that we will strike,” Metzgen explained. “We are in the process of putting together our plan of action, and after we are through with that then we will move.”
Nevertheless, the bus association maintains that they would still welcome dialogue with the government. “We are hoping that between now and when that happens that we at least can go back to the table and sit down with somebody from the government to try and see how we can work something out because we are very serious about doing this.”
Metzgen would not give us an exact date of the BBA’s strike action, as he says divulging the date could undermine the effectiveness of their plan of action. However, he did inform that the decision was taken as a last resort and that it had become necessary since their pleas to the government have fallen on deaf ears.
According to Metzgen, on Tuesday of this week, the BBA met with the Minister of Transport Hon. Rodwell Ferguson and senior officials in the Ministry of Transport to discuss the devastating effects that the consecutive increases in fuel prices have been causing on bus owners. Something which he says the BBA can no longer continue to absorb.
Metzgen said that during the meeting the BBA requested that Ferguson either provided some sort of relief at the pumps for bus owners or approve a 25 percent increase in bus fares. That request, according to Metzgen, was met by a flat-out “no” from the Minister who informed them that bus owners cannot increase tariff fares on their own, and neither could he as the Minister and that it had to go through Cabinet for discussion before it could be approved.
Metzgen said that Ferguson indicated that that would take approximately two weeks before it can be tabled in front of Cabinet.
When we ask him his response to Ferguson's time frame, Metzgen said that the BBA and its members have collectively decided that they simply cannot wait any longer since they have been exercising extreme patience since 2018 when the UDP was in Government. He further indicated that every time there is a meeting between the BBA and transport officials they discuss the same issue, raise the same concerns, and in the end, nothing is done about it.
Metzgen said that this time, the need for relief for bus operators is critical since apart from still reeling from the economic effects of the pandemic, the price of fuel has seen an increase of 38% in the past couple of months alone, sending bus owners to a “breaking point.”
“Man we can't wait two weeks. By then the cost of fuel would be over 15 dollars a gallon. We need the relief now; we are punishing now, bus operators are taking a licking now. In fact, we have been for over the past 22 months with this pandemic. We were the only industry that was never looked at by the previous administration or this one for any sort of relief. Still, we know that the fuel cost is no fault of the government, but we know that something can be done to alleviate the cost somewhere not only for the operator but for the country as a whole.”
While Metzgen explained that bus operators do not want to go on strike, nor do they want to increase tariffs, neither can they continue to serve the public under the present situation. He concluded that it is time for the government to step in and work out an amicable solution for all parties involved.
“I would like to say through this medium my sincerest apologies to the Belize people and the commuters who will be affected by our actions but somebody has to stand up,” reiterated Metzgen.