Bermuda’s outgoing Ombudsman has cast another shadow on the management of the Department of Public Transportation (DPT), in the wake of the vote of no confidence taken by bus operators.

The ‘Bus Service Communications’ by lawyer and Ombudsman Victoria Pearman, was tabled in the House of Assembly on Friday (Feb 18).

Ms Pearman noted that the island’s bus service was pressured severely by the heavy economic impact on maintenance and replacement of the ageing bus fleet was compounded by the COVID pandemic.

But she said the overall service needs to get a grip on organisation by developing clearer communication skills when it comes to signalling cancellations by notifying bus commuters.

The report called for improved information systems, especially for elderly commuters, who do not rely heavily on electronic commications as much as younger commuters do.

“The communication of the bus cancellations does amount to maladministration in that the communication process is inadequate in providing information to the widest number of bus users and the general public about bus cancellations and the bus service,” said Ms Pearman.

While noting that the department had become more sensitive to the needs of people who were not so familiar with the internet, she said “improved communications” in this area were warranted.

“Clear, effective and wide public communication is one of the underlying principles of this office and this report aims to bring about improved communications by the authority,” said Ms Pearman.

“Some improvements have been made already, including updates on cancellations that can be obtained using a designated telephone information system,” she added.

But she said: “In the modern communications age, there is an even greater need to utilise the full range of communication methods and platforms to reach the widest number of users and the public.

“I strongly recommend that the authority consider those who do not have access to, or proficiency with, technology and provide alternative means.

“These may also be the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our society.

“They are often older. It is likely that there will be continued and greater use of technology for these purposes, but that fact alone does not mitigate or eliminate the authority’s obligation to ensure that information about bus cancellations and the bus service is provided to all its users.”

It was also noted that the Government had accepted her recommendations and the call for action to be taken.

On that note, Ms Pearman recommended that “the department reconsider points raised on the use of broadcast media — radio — and the department provide information using all available communication methods and platforms, including radio”.

DPT Director Roger Todd

She also called on the department to “review its disproportionate reliance on electronic communications systems and methods to ensure that the department uses all available means of communication to reach the widest number of bus users”.

Highlighting the “lack of a full complement of mechanics” and the current state of the island’s bus fleet, it was also noted that there was “no maintenance manager in place” at DPT from 2012 until early 2018.

That would be the last year of the one term One Bermuda Alliance administration and just over a year after the return of the Progressive Labour Party administration.

The report also said: “The Department of Public Transportation (DPT) agreed to the recommendations, prior to the finalisation of the Report. It was important the DPT agreed to the changes from the Report which would lead to a better way of approaching communications about the Bus Service.

“This should result in the DPT communicating with all bus users and the public, including those who do not have ready access to the internet. Implementing the recommendations in full will develop the communications systems of the DPT and result in changes which will bring about continued improvement in Bus Service – Communications.”

Moving forward, Ms Pearman stated: “The Office of the Ombudsman will continue to monitor and be engaged in the implementation of the recommendations in the Report.

“The changes in the communications actions by the Department of Public Transportation will improve information provided by the Department for the benefit of bus users and the general public.”

On that note, she said: “The Bus Service is intended to be available to all persons in Bermuda, improved communication will make this a better service in the public interest.”

Copies of the report will be published on the Ombudsman for Bermuda website www.ombudsman.bm. Copies will also be available for collection in the lobby of the Office of the Ombudsman in accordance with the COVID-19 protocols.