Transport Minister Walter Roban has disclosed that the four new buses due to arrive in Bermuda before the end of this year, were approved and signed off on for purchase five years ago in 2012, when he was the Minister of Transport.
In part two of the Bermuda Real series with newly appointed Ministers in the Progressive Labour Party government, Mr Roban discussed the island’s ageing bus fleet and plans to address.
While reluctant to say just how many new buses will be added to the fleet, he said adding four new buses a year would help. And plans are underway to use mini-buses to assist the Department of Public Transportation (DPT) in the new school year.
Last week the DPT reported six more breakdowns in one day, with 72 buses in a fleet of 105 buses out of service, in what was described as a “severe shortage of equipment”.
Admittedly, he said the four new buses due to arrive later this year will hardly put a dent in the daily problems encountered. But he said the four buses promised by former Minister Michael Fahy, are the same buses he approved when he was the Minister of Transport five years ago.
“We have four buses on order right now that are due to arrive here before the end of this year. I would also note that these same four buses were supposed to have been ordered in 2012 when I was the Minister of Transport,” he said.
When asked why it has taken five years to secure four new buses that were approved in 2012, he replied: “I don’t know, we’ve had two Ministers since then, one of them is now deceased and another Minister.”
He was referring to the late Shawn Crockwell, who was also Minister of Tourism and Senator Michael Fahy, who is no longer in politics. While Ministers come and go, civil servants remain in service. With that in mind, Bermuda Real submitted follow up questions last week for an explanation from the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, which was not available at post time.
Mr Roban noted that problems plaguing the bus service presented ongoing issues going into the last General Election, issues that exploded with breakdowns and the school bus fire earlier this year.
“The fleet is old, it has gone beyond the standard best practice age, when it comes to maintenance and the day-to-day operations. The goal would be to keep the best practice age level which is seven years. We are beyond that! We have legacy issues, machinery and the challenges of ensuring the quality of our work environment and service.”
He also noted that traditional Bermuda buses are made up of parts “created in different parts of the world”, and that maintenance is an ongoing requirement daily. But he said: “I’m satisfied that people on every level of the DPT are doing what they can with what they have, especially in light of the ongoing breakdowns, and the cleanliness of the buses in use daily from 6am to midnight; which puts stress on the whole infrastructure.
“We are addressing every challenge, but I am satisfied that the DPT is doing what they can with what they are currently faced with. And we are working to address the issues to make steady improvements.”
He also stressed that the problems do not point up inadequacies on the part of the staff responsible for this area. Having met with DPT staff, he conceded that overall improvement is needed, although he was quick to note that adequate investment in training has been hindered by “fiscal restraint”.
“There is a shortage of talent,” said the Minister. “Some have retired, others have moved on, so there’s an ongoing demand here in Bermuda for qualified heavy mechanics, and not enough investment in training.
“I am extremely satisfied with the DPT training programme. There are quite a few in apprentice training, which has been ongoing. I’m very happy to see that because it’s an area in great demand and with a fleet of our size, it is imperative to have those qualified trained mechanics on board.”
The Minister has also met with a number of bus operators to hear their concerns firsthand. Asked what he will do differently this time around as Minister of Transport, he said: “I am committed to finding ways to improve the current situation we’re facing.
“I am going to take my time with that and listen more than I have before, so that solutions can be generated to have better service. I will also be open and honest as to where we are, so I will ask the public to have patience because despite all the money, time and energy we put into it, it’s not going to be fixed immediately.”
As for the machine acquired some time ago to wash the buses, he confirmed that it is still not working and that it will cost a considerable amount of money to fix it.
He also called on Bermuda’s bus travelling public, including school students, to do their part by not leaving remnants of food and beverages on the buses to help keep them clean. And he commended DPT staff in that regard.
“Many of them are long-serving employees, who go out of their way to make sure things are running as right as they can be, despite the challenges, as we find ways to repair and improve the quality and state of the bus service,” said Mr Roban.
“When I hear of things like Work Rallies to help clean up our schools, I think it’s great because it shows that Bermudians are sensitive to the needs and take pride in working together.” And more of that community spirit is needed across the board in his view.
Asked how many buses he plans to bring in next year, Mr Roban said it has been discussed regularly at the Cabinet level.
“I will put in for more buses,” he said. “We will have more buses next year, but I won’t say how many because I may ask for a certain amount and get less.”