Government says Bermuda's buses are safe. *File photo by Kageaki Smith
Government says Bermuda's buses are safe. *File photo by Kageaki Smith
WEDNESDAY, MAR. 2: Government is reassuring the public its buses are safe, following concerns raised by drivers in this newspaper last week.

A spokesman said yesterday: “There are no unsafe buses operating on Bermuda’s roads and the safety of members of the public is in no way compromised by the buses currently in operation.”

In Friday’s Bermuda Sun, we reported claims by drivers that up to a third of the island’s buses — there are roughly 100 in the fleet — were off the road and that some needing repairs were being kept in service to make up the shortage.

The Government spokesman said: “There are currently less than 25 per cent of buses out of service awaiting mechanical attention.

“Every bus operating on the roads of Bermuda is safe.

“Those buses that are being used, but in need of repair, have minor body work maintenance to be done.

“Some are awaiting preventative maintenance which is more commonly known as their ‘recurring servicing appointment’.”

One driver had claimed there was a backlog of repairs due to cuts in PTB (Public Transportation Board) mechanics’ hours, and that “mechanics are overwhelmed”.

But the spokesman said: “There have been no cuts in the work hours of the mechanics. Traditionally, there has been available overtime hours distributed amongst the workers to get tasks completed that were not executed during regular hours.

“As a result of recent budget cuts, overtime has not been as available as in the past.”

Less overtime

He added: “The mechanics are far from overwhelmed. At the onset of a decrease in overtime, there has been a decline in the motivation of many staff members to work at optimum levels during regular hours.

“Despite many meetings and discussions, the reality that overtime is not a right but an opportunity when it presents itself has not been taken on board.”

A driver had told us operators felt PTB should keep the garage open for 24-hours, “for them to keep on top of the buses”. The government spokesman said this was already being looked at.

“The management and the Bermuda Industrial Union officials have been working to institute a night shift for over a year now,” he said.

“These efforts have been less than fruitful because of the opposition that continues to be attracted to the issue. It should be noted that the start of a night shift would decrease the need for overtime.”

One driver also claimed that since the strike a fortnight earlier, management had yet to meet with staff to discuss concerns over disciplinary actions and health and safety.

The spokesman countered: “Within the last two weeks, meetings have been held with the managers, supervisors, and the Bermuda Industrial Union.

“In fact, at the time of the request from the Bermuda Sun [last Thursday afternoon], the Ministry and Bermuda Industrial Union officials were in a meeting.”

Drivers had also claimed members of the public were openly fare-dodging by using their children’s bus passes.

The spokesman said: “Most bus operators allow students to ride if they have misplaced their passes.

“There are a distinct few who use this as an opportunity to disparage children for not having their passes.

“Some have refused to let the children ride on the bus even if they offer to pay. This is completely unacceptable and is addressed by DPT (Department of Public Transportation) management on a case-by-case basis.

“If members of the public do experience a problem riding a bus, it is critical they report incidences to the Department at 292-3851 or info@ptb.bm.

“They must cite the name of the bus operator, the bus number, the date and time of the incident.

“Concerning children passing their passes to their parents, the bus operators have a level of authority to ask passengers whether they are truly a student, and if so, the school they attend.”

He added drivers should continue to allow Bermuda College students to ride if they have not yet had their ID cards issued.

“These students should not be penalized from riding the bus,” he said.

Government said it has not received any reports of tourists using expatriate children’s passes. The spokesman said: “Whilst bus operators have the autonomy to ask questions to gain clarity on a passenger’s authenticity, most operators are careful to remain in their sphere of influence.

“Digging for the details of why a person has been issued a card is outside this sphere. Most bus operators understand this and work at an optimum level as a result.”

Social Agenda

The spokesman also said there was nothing to prove one driver’s claim that “on a full bus of 38 you probably only get about 10 people who have actually paid” to get on: “… Under the Bermuda Government’s Social Agenda, a commitment was made several years ago to improve the conditions of Bermudians in need of assistance. The decision to offer free transportation to Bermuda’s students was only one of the ways in which the issue was addressed. Without data to back up this claim it is simply an opinion, allegation, rumour or supposition and is not supported by fact.”

On claims of drivers being assaulted, he said any incident was dealt with on a “case by case basis”.

In addition to calling the police if needed, it was “imperative” drivers make a report to DPT management.

“Currently, it is the responsibility of the bus operator to file charges against anyone who attacks him/her. DPT management has offered assistance to operators by filling out forms, writing letters, going to court, and has paid for legal fees,” he said.

Government criticized the Sun for basing its story on anonymous comments and providing a forum for “misleading or distorted allegations without making them [our sources] accountable for what is nothing more than misinformation”.

In our article on Friday we stated that we had not received a response from Government on the drivers’ claims before going to press.

The Government spokesman said: “The PTB and Government were not given sufficient time to respond — approximately three hours.”

Editor’s note: Our story on Friday about the bus service drew Government’s ire and it is important to add context to what is reported above. Bus drivers had shared their concerns with us and we put their claims to Government at the earliest opportunity, which was on Thursday afternoon.

Ideally we would have provided more notice for a story like this but news evolves at an erratic, unpredictable and demanding pace.

We concluded that drivers had raised their concerns in good faith and it’s clear from Government’s subsequent response that there are challenges in the area of bus maintenance.

We never reported that buses were unsafe; rather, our story reflected the drivers’ views that some vehicles might be ‘potentially unroadworthy’ and that safety was among the drivers’ concerns.

Other parts of the story, notably about meetings, or lack thereof, between Government and PTB officials we concede were inaccurate and we apologize for any aspect of the story which has since proven to be off the mark. We always strive for fairness and accuracy but on this occasion we fell short.