School bus drivers hurting hard

THE novel coronavirus pandemic has wiped out the investments of a number of people, mainly women, who bought buses to transport children to and from school.

Things were going well. Some drivers were making several trips as parents warmed to their children being picked up and dropped off at home instead of taking regular buses and route taxis.

Then the bubble burst on March 10, 2020. When Jamaica had its first case of the novel coronavirus and school ordered closed, that was it for the several operators of school buses.

A short opening after the start of the new school year and reopening this month to facilitate students sitting exams provided a few dollars in the pockets of school bus operators, but just enough, maybe to pay a utility bill.

Some of the bus operators have been able to sign contracts with a few workplaces to drop off employees, while others try to find other jobs. But some just sit and watch their buses rot.

Vice-chairman of the St Catherine School Transportation Association, Myrna McLean, said some of her members will not continue with their services come September as there will be fewer children to carry to school.

“If I get something else to do, I don’t think I’m going to continue. Gas is going up so fast now and when I think about my overhead expenses plus the gas, I don’t see myself making, not what I used to, but what I need to survive. So I don’t know if I am going to continue,” she told the Jamaica Observer.

She proposed that schools will have face-to-face sessions along with online classes, but said this may not be possible given the spread of the virus.

“Some schools that have one shift are going to do two shifts to accommodate everybody. Some schools that are already on a shift, they are going to have to do online classes to accommodate them. It’s going to be more for us, more gas as more children in the morning and afternoon. Also some children are going to be online so there are still less children for us to carry. So it is not going to be the same as it used to be,” she explained.

McLean also noted that even though some members with vehicle loans have been given time to pay, they are unable to do so due lack of work opportunities.

“Some of them got some time to pay but it is over a year now. So I don’t even know how some of them are managing. Some of them have to find ways to pay their loan. There’s a particular member right now that is thinking of giving back her bus because she can’t manage anymore,” she added.

Camille Bourg, a member of the association, shared the same sentiment: “I don’t know what is going to happen in September, maybe it’s not the full force, maybe some get two day, three day. Plus gas is so expensive and for 20 weeks now, gas [prices] keep rising. I don’t know what will happen.”

Noting that she has not got any opportunity to work, she said: “The only time my bus moved was in January 4 when they said the prep schools can open ’cause most of my kids are from Glowell Preparatory School. So school was open for a month and odd then school closed. I have a $44,000 mortgage to pay monthly and I’m in a lot of arrears now. It’s really rough. I just thank God for my mother. She shipped a barrel to us in January but the food almost done.”

Meanwhile, an independent bus driver, Joyce Edmondson, said she would be very happy if school resumes September, “I hope and pray, I nah lie to you. Because things would kinda turn back around for me, in terms of getting some of my bills and loans paid off. So what I did was to plastic my bus, so the seats are plastic [wrapped] so it’s easier to handle. So when one set of children come out, you just sanitise it. I think it will be feasible.”

Edmondson explained that even when some schools had opened, she was still unable to work as most of the parents were without jobs.

“Some schools open but the parents are not calling you because most of them are not working either. So they carry their children themselves. You have people weh still owe me too and can’t pay me. So just imagine. I haven’t gotten a chance to work the bus. Not even fi get a cent, a red cent,” she added.

Another bus driver who identified himself as Claudette said she is also looking forward to the reopening of school, “I am looking forward to it, I might not be able to carry the amount of children that i used to carry, but i am really looking forward to seeing my children and to interact with them. It would be better than if I’m not doing anything at all. We just have to work with it as we go along till better days come.”

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