Opinion: Bus drivers

POSTED: 09/22/11 2:35 PM

Again a bus driver appeared in court yesterday for a traffic violation. The charge was similar to the one quite some of his colleagues have faced before. He had dared to let passengers get off his bus on the A.J.C. Brouwers Road opposite the Diyon furniture store. There is no bus stop there and according to the traffic ordinance bus drivers are not allowed to stop willy-nilly in the middle of the road. The bus driver left the court with a 50 guilder-fine.
To say that this is ridiculous is a remark that will never encounter sympathy in the court; the law is the law and that’s the end of it.
But let’s look at this from a different angle. We know that our police force is operating at approximately 30 percent below minimum strength. We also know that the number of bus stops along our roads is limited.
So while the police certainly have more important things to do than harass bus drivers with traffic fines, those same bus drivers have to deal with a happy go lucky culture that has ruled public transport on the island like forever.
Busses stop anywhere where somebody wishing to take a ride signals the driver to stop. They stop anywhere when a passenger signals that she or he wants to get off the bus. It is, in a way, a charming and very Caribbean system that many people appreciate.
We imagine that a bus driver who refuses to stop and who takes a passenger, say one kilometer further down the road to the next available bus stop, exposes himself (for some unknown reason there are no female bus drivers we are aware of) to some serious abuse – verbal, or worse.
If the traffic ordinance decrees that citizens are only allowed to get on and off busses at official bus\ stops, shouldn’t then the government make sure that there are plenty of bus stops? A fair rule of thumb would be to place bus stops no further than 400 meters from anybody’s home. We know, that’s a lot of bus stops, but if this is feasible in other countries, why not in St. Maarten?
And if creating all these bus stops is too expensive, isn’t it about time to adjust the traffic ordinance in such a way that bus drivers no longer run the risk of a fine when they respond to their customers’ wishes?
The court cannot be faulted, because it simply applies the law. But our Chief Commissioner could very well instruct officers not to act against bus drivers – unless, of course, they block traffic while there are unofficial solutions (like parking with two wheels on the pavement) available.
We just heard in court in an unrelated case (about firearm possession) that St. Maarten cannot be compared to the Netherlands and that the specific local circumstances must be taken into account. If this applies to guns, it should also apply to the way our public transport system functions. So, please, leave our bus drivers alone, and devote police time to more pressing matters.

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