Under fire: Bus drivers were criticised for stopping services on Tuesday due to obstructions on the roads. *File photo by Kageaki Smith
Under fire: Bus drivers were criticised for stopping services on Tuesday due to obstructions on the roads. *File photo by Kageaki Smith
Bus drivers have received an apology from their superiors after a post-hurricane row over road safety.

Drivers came under heavy criticism after stopping all services on Tuesday out of concern for passenger safety.

They had previously been told to resume services at 6am — even though an assessment team had deemed roads unsafe.

Drivers are livid that critics — including the Premier — came down so hard on them when their paramount concern was safety.

The Premier, in turn, says drivers over-reacted and in doing so penalized the whole country. 

Inspection

Chris Furbert, president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, told the Bermuda Sun the Public Transport Board’s assistant director, Jonelle Christopher, apologized to the workers in the presence of permanent secretary Cherie-Lynn Whitter.

An assessment team made up of Bermuda Public Service Union and Bermuda Industrial Union members, as well as members of management, conducted an island-wide inspection of the bus routes on Monday.

They suggested service should resume at noon on Tuesday so that Works and Engineering and the Parks Department could complete the necessary clean up.

But operators were then told the service should resume at 6am on Tuesday.

According to Mr. Furbert, the assessment team was not informed of the change of plan.

Drivers followed orders but soon complained of unsafe conditions, including downed trees and power lines obstructing their routes. Shortly after, the decision was made — it is unclear by whom — to stop all services.

Mr. Furbert told the Bermuda Sun: “The assessment team left the department of PTB around 8pm on Monday so we don’t know when the decision was made for them to start at 6am.

“We can assume that either the assistant director made that decision or the P.S. or the minister.

“We know someone in upper management made that decision without informing both unions or their supervisors.

“Because there were some unsafe conditions out there, to some degree the public and the operators were at risk. We should not compromise people’s safety.”

Meanwhile, bus operators have demanded an apology from Premier Dr. Ewart Brown.

‘Insensitive’

The Premier said in a statement on Tuesday that the Ministry of Tourism was taking an “aggressive leadership role” in getting the island back up and running after Hurricane Igor by staggering the resumption of service on routes identified as safe.

He then branded the operators “un-Bermudian” and “insensitive” for the work stoppage.

The Premier has since issued the following statement: “Regardless of the specific circumstances, we must find a way to handle differences without disrupting public services.

“Until that happens, there will be work stoppages at every turn.

“There is enough collective brainpower to talk our way through a six-hour difference.”

A spokesperson for the bus operators and allied workers said: “Our workers want an apology from the Premier because he made that statement that we were ‘un-Bermudian’ and ‘insensitive’.

“It was portrayed as though it was the drivers’ fault.

“We had an agreement that those four or five people should do the assessment and if anything changed with upper management, they should have been contacted to let them know the decision.”

A bus driver added: “The problem is that we are always accused of creating these problems.

“All of us suggested we get a formal, public apology. We are always taking the blame, that’s why we are always so angry about it.”

Glenn Simmons, bus operator and Allied Workers spokesman, went along to the Premier’s brown paper bag lunch yesterday to tell Dr. Brown his comments about striking bus drivers had been “unbelievably insensitive” and “somewhat offensive”.

Opinion

Dr. Brown said he thought bus drivers had reacted too quickly.

He also blamed the union for not carrying out its own assessment of the roads.

He said: “I believe in my heart of hearts that the BIU are too quick to disrupt services to the public when there is a difference of opinion.

“You can’t keep a little child waiting at a bus stop. You don’t do an amputation because a toe itches. You can’t shut a country down because you’ve had a disagreement or because someone disrespects you.

“You have to hold the big bullets for a situation that demands it.”

Dr. Brown added that he hoped labour relations throughout Bermuda would “get better and stronger.” 

Cherie-Lynn Whitter, permanent secretary in Transport, said: “We are pleased service has now been restored and look forward to an improved working relationship with the unions as we endeavour to provide safe and reliable public  transportation.”