Considering the “high demand for more minibuses for hire” during the peak cruise ship season and the increasing need for more wheelchair accessible vehicles, the report calls for “Minibus Regulations” to “properly regulate” Minibus owners and operators.
According to the Green Paper on Transport 2019, a key concern is the current “value of a minibus permit”.
The report stated outright that minibus permits are “grossly undervalued”, and “there is an urgent need for minibus operators to work at night and provide service to persons who do not wish to drink and drive”.
The report calls on government to make it a requirement for minibuses to “provide an evening service” for both residents and visitors to “enjoy restaurants and nightlife activities and know that there is transport available at the end of the evening”.
The 200-page report states up front that “the operating conditions for a minibus is managed through policy, whereas the taxi industry is governed by Regulations approved by Parliament”.
“This has caused some conflict between the taxi and minibus operators.”
Moving forward, the report said the recommendations should be included “in the pending Minibus Regulations”, to “help create a level playing field between taxis and minibuses.
Stakeholders called on government to increase the maximum number of minibuses to 180 or a maximum of 6,000 seats, with regulations “to achieve a high level of professional service delivery, and ensure standards are maintained and enforced”.
Thirty-three (33) of those minibuses should be “specifically licensed” as outlined below:
- Sixteen (16) minibus permits for ‘general conveyance’ out of Dockyard for cruise ship passenger business, including ship shore excursions
- Twelve (12) minibus permits for wheelchair accessible vehicles to accommodate four wheelchairs (heavy motorised) as well as seats for companions and family members. These minibuses can be used for trips going to and from the airport and hotels to and from attractions, shops and restaurants, as well as, to and from cruise ships
- Five (5) minibus permits for ‘general conveyance’ serving ‘feeder routes’ (for bus or ferry stops) for the residential communities in the East, West and Central Parishes to cater to the community with special needs, especially persons using motorised wheelchairs, but do not have access to community service vehicles
While minibuses and taxis “mostly cater to the same customer base”, taxis provide “the convenience of direct point to point uninterrupted service”, as opposed to shared minibus rides, which “can take longer”.
The fee structure for a minibus is also different to that of a taxi.
“Minibus per passenger fares start at $5 for the first parish, an additional $2 for the second and third parish, and $1 for each parish thereafter.
Taxi rates start with an initial charge of $5.15 and “then $0.55 for each subsequent one-fifth of a mile or part thereof”, with additional fares for “luggage fees, waiting fees, surcharges from midnight to 6am, and Sunday and public holiday surcharges”, which “do not apply to minibuses”.
But a lot has changed since the mid-1990’s, when “there were between seven and eight minibuses” on Bermuda’s roads.
As of 2018, that total increased to “147 licensed minibuses with only four minibuses having wheelchair accessibility” – when the report was published, there were “only two minibuses with wheelchair accessibility for general conveyance”.
With record numbers of cruise ship passengers, the report said: “Most operators prefer the cruise ship business”, which “has left the residential communities at a disadvantage in high season”.
During the winter, most tend to address repairs and maintenance or take a vacation.
But minibus owners maintain that the higher volume only lasts for as long as the peak tourism season. After that, they say the pickings are slim. On that basis alone, they object to any plans to increase the number of minibus permits moving forward.
On specific concerns regarding Dockyard and Horseshoe Bay Beach, the report called on government to “find alternative beach destinations (to Horseshoe Bay), develop a shuttle service between Dockyard and the other beaches, and:
- Legislate shared ride taxi fares at $7 per person fare one-way, as soon as possible (Not supported by most taxi drivers)
- Legislate flat taxi rates of $32 for 4-seat and $42 for 7-seat taxis
- Create a shuttle line for taxis and minibuses at Dockyard GTA and Horseshoe Bay beach for a legislated rate of $7 per person, shared ride, with 15-minute “maximum wait periods with the vehicle obligated to leave with whatever number of passengers are in that vehicle” and “those in the shuttle line cannot use a metered rate”
- Ensure better control of Horseshoe Bay Beach GTA by Department of Parks
- Enforce “No Solicitation” of taxi and minibus transportation services at Horseshoe Bay or take down the sign
- Provide shade in the parking area of Horseshoe Bay Beach GTA for waiting passengers and drivers
The report also sets out the following:
- A minibus is classified as having seating accommodation for not less than 11 passengers – the average number of seats is 20. Some of the newer and larger minibuses have seating capacity for 30 persons
- Until December 2006, minibuses were assigned to operate in an approved parish. Thereafter, the Minister responsible for transport granted permission for all minibuses to operate island wide. This left certain communities without affordable short distance transport options. Until the regulations become law, the fares, dress code, and hours of operation are determined by the PSVLB by policy
- On a sunny day, up to 5,000 cruise ship passengers may wish to visit Horseshoe Bay Beach and return. The public bus schedule only provides one, 38-seat bus, every 30-minutes from Dockyard via the South Shore, putting the burden of transportation on taxi and minibus providers
- In 2017, DPT stopped making available 12 public buses to be used for cruise passenger sightseeing tours, thereby leaving minibuses to fill this demand for tour lift. This means between 20 and 60 minibuses are not available in the General Transportation Area, for general conveyance
- Typically, minibus operators who provide the daytime transport services to cruise ship passengers, do not work at night, when more minibuses are needed, particularly late at night
- There is reputational risk for Bermuda in not having minibus drivers dressed appropriately
- Minibus operators would like the ability to import vehicles at a 10 percent customs duty (like taxis), instead of the current custom duty rate of 35 percent
- A mandator special certificate course for all minibus drivers similar to the ‘Minibus Safety Code of Practice from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents in the UK’ to become certified to handle small children without a parent present (eg school runs), persons with differently abled needs, and include this requirement in the pending Minibus Regulations
- Allow advertising on the rear window of minibuses, similar to DPT buses
- Have the ability to legally use jump seats for passengers on short runs
- Allow the transfer of a minibus permit (ownership) to another person through the sale of said permit upon the approval from the PSVLB
- Allow a modified dress code due to religious beliefs providing it does not jeopardize the safe operation of the vehicle
- Affix a Parish Map of Bermuda to the minibus rate sheet and ensure the map is properly displayed
- Have specific identifiable parking bay allocations for minibuses in Hamilton and the airport
- Amend legislation to create three (3) Classes of minibuses:
- Class A to accommodate not less than 9 and not more than 15 seats
- Class B to accommodate not less the 16 and not more than 23 seats; and
- Class C to accommodate not less than 24 seats and not more than 30 seats