Discussion: Some van drivers across St. Vincent are striking over the loss of income due to COVID-19 safety requirements to transport fewer number of passengers (50 percent capacity) at any given time.
But, some members of the public are saying that the van operators are not taking a half of a loaf which is better than none at all.
Some members of the public have suggested that reducing the number of trips vans make to times when persons will be more likely to travel during the day, or even maximizing other routes could work, but they claim some drivers have seemingly chosen to put money over health.
They reference the overcrowding of vans even in the face of the new protocols and the wanton disregard for the safety of passengers.
Some public commentators have said that amid pressure to lock down the country to curb the spread of Covid-19, the government has decided instead to impose other restrictive measures to ensure economic activity continues while balancing public health demands.
With a total lockdown, no vans will likely be running to gain any sort of income. In a lockdown situation, the government is also not mandated to provide any assistance.
But, does the strike/service withdrawal have merit?
In 2020, the government established precedent by providing COVID-19 relief to registered operators of public transportation.
“A total of 451 minibus operators have registered to receive two months of income support of $500 or $600 for 18-seater and 25-seat or larger buses, respectively. The Government paid approximately $180,000 to 351 operators. A further payment to the larger 451-operator cohort is expected shortly,” finance minister Camillo Gonsalves said in late June 2020.
Moratoriums were also given to holders of loans from banks and other financial institutions.
It may well be that established precedent that has convinced minibus operators that the government can, again, provide relief to them at this time.
Running against economics
Operator of public transportation, especially those in the far regions such as North Central Windward and North Leeward have complained that it makes no economic sense to operate with fewer number of passengers as mandated in the Covid-19 protocols.
Some claim that the daily cost of fuel and other expenses will outweigh the reduced income earned.
They claim that it is for this reason why they need the number of passengers allowed on buses to be increased or for some form of financial assistance.
Some persons have also said that fewer number of people are leaving home or travelling.
A shut down of the county will help the van drivers to see that a half a loaf is better than none.
A shut down of the bus system will help the government to see that the van drivers are in need of some support.
A further spike in cases will help van drivers to see that packing up the vans with more passengers will do more harm than good and is therefore not an option.
An extended bailout of sectors such as public transportation might break the defense walls of the government against an economic fallout it has been trying to avert. This will be a fallout amid a public health crisis and a possible volcanic eruption and its inherent problems.
The ultimate solution has to be that we all work together without holding each other at ransom.