Transport Minister Walter Roban has disclosed that “right now the Department of Marine & Ports requires additional funding for the year, which, if it is not addressed, would leave Bermuda’s marine fleet service unable to properly serve the island’s residents and visitors alike”.

In two separate Ministerial Statements delivered on Friday, on the state of Bermuda’s public transportation, including the problems “inherited” by the new Progressive Labour administration on the ageing bus fleet, he said the problems plaguing both the ferry and bus services were a direct a result of “a number of inter-related factors”. Topping the list of concerns was the recent America’s Cup Race Series.

With two separate ferry schedules combined, the Minister said the department’s budget was virtually exhausted “in the areas of Fuel, Inventory, and Overtime”. “This additional lift caused an excessive burden on these budget items. Exacerbating the situation is the fact that, unfortunately, the Department did not have additional funding in its budget to cover the expenses of the America’s Cup'”

The second contributing factor “was the leasing of the Rhode Island Millennium Ferry for a fifth consecutive year, “which caused a further drain on the funding resources of Marine & Ports”.  Given the total costs, which will be “approximately $7,933,729” he said: “One can argue we should have simply purchased a new ferry ourselves”.

If the department’s budget shortfall is not addressed is not addressed, he warned it “would leave Bermuda’s marine fleet service unable to properly serve the island’s residents and visitors alike”. 

During the America’s Cup event, the department “operated a total of nine (9) ferries at the weekend compared with the normal summer schedule of four (4) week day ferries and (2) weekend ferries”. Despite the financial challenges, he said Marine & Ports staff, “performed to a very high standard… and received many well deserved kudos for their hard work and professionalism”.

The leasing of the Rhode Island Millennium Ferry caused a further drain on the department’s resources, after it “was originally leased to assist… during a period when the Marine & Ports ferry fleet was to undergo major maintenance by way of a required mid-life refit”. But he said the maintenance “did not take place until this past winter when a portion of the required work was carried out, some five years after the Millennium was first brought to Bermuda”. “So far, these ‘catch up’ repairs have cost the Bermuda Government $,418,435 in materials, parts and labour.” 

Another $862,000 was allocated to meet expenses, but the actual costs will be approximately $1.5 million for the six month period. “This amount consists of the ferry’s base contract price of $1.25 million together with the crew, travel costs, housing, fuel, international crew wages and vessel delivery fees. And the department “transferred funds from the very areas “impacted by the budget shortfall” to “meet a contractual obligation” on “an installment payment in June of this year”.

“Given the total cost of the Millennium Ferry to Bermuda by the end of this year will be approximately $7.93 million ($7,933,728), one can argue we should have simply purchased a new ferry ourselves,” said the Minister.

And the third factor “gets to the crux of the matter” has to do with the department’s “operational budget allocation of $20,097,138”, representing “an increase of just one percent (1%) over $19.9 million, which itself proved inadequate to meet the demands of the marine fleet during the 2016/17 fiscal year”.

The combination of these factors “means the the current year’s budget allocations for Fuel, Inventory, and Overtime are now largely depleted, and we have more than half of the budget year left”. “The funds have been spent on the America’s Cup and the Millennium Ferry,” said Mr Roban.

Marine & Ports now requires “additional funding in the amount of $1,674,440”, which he said was “absolutely necessary to enable the Ferry and Tug Boat Services to meet service level schedules” for the rest of this fiscal year. The funds cannot be obtained elsewhere in the Department’s or Ministry’s budget allocation and, as such, a Supplementary Estimate has already been placed before the House,” he added.

“It is critical for the Department to maintain its marine fleet in an optimal condition,” said Mr Roban. “A programme of maintenance and repair is required for the fleet to keep its Lloyds of London class certification. Falling out of class in not an option.” Additionally, with the Millennium Ferry contract coming to an end this year, he said: “It is imperative the existing fleet be properly maintained with repairs taking place in a timely manner.” And the department is recruiting more staff “to ensure it retains the necessary class certification with a regular maintenance and repair programme”.

On the “high number of buses out of service in recent months”, he said: “We recognize this has been challenging for commuters, school students and visitors on the island”. “What has been going on with buses for some time now is not a secret. For this reason, the Government believes it is imperative to be open about the situation – what it is we are dealing with and the planned way forward.”

Some of the breakdowns “relate to design”, while others “are a  result of the bus fleet simply being old” – some of them are 20 years old. “To remedy this, more needs to be done to augment a fleet that is on the road 18 hours a day, almost every day of the year,” the Minister said. “The newer buses are being utilised more often in the rotation, which, in turn, means they are aging faster. The remainder of the fleet is older and, with so many buses out of service, the DPT is unable to carry out a programme of preventative maintenance, as it has done in the past.”

In addition to “the four new buses already ordered and due on the island at the end of the year, he said the Government is reviewing a Request for Proposal for eight new buses, while DPT  mechanics use “their knowledge to eliminate, as much as possible, design flaws that plague the existing fleet”.

One of those flaws is “the enclosed engine compartment on the buses”. That coupled with the summer heat “results in overheating of the vehicle, which puts it out of service”. “The new buses will have vented engine compartments to ensure sufficient air circulation around the engine. And they’ll have windows that open. Efforts are also underway “to find a solution that addresses the infiltration of vegetation into the radiator, which is the main part of the bus’s cooling system”.

He also noted that “something as simple as wet seats can put a bus out of service”, and the new buses will not have fabric seats. But he said, despite the ‘No food and No drink’ signs on buses there is something all bus commuters can do in terms of “cleanliness”, by “changing our individual behaviors on the bus”.

More mechanics are being hired, and once their training is over, he said “they will bring much needed extra manpower to the maintenance division”. And a fully functional inventory tracking system, which is currently “not entirely available” has been bumped up to high priority status to get a better handle on “tracking, ordering and control of inventory” to ensure that the new buses “do not start service in Bermuda with the current disadvantages”. The current use of minibuses to transport school students will also continue until the level of buses out of service “is consistently below 40”.

Overall, he said the difficult economic times in recent years “and decisions made on spending priorities have resulted in an overall lack of investment in material and human resources for the DPT”.

“Most unfortunately, this means that DPT is unable to provide the published and expected bus service despite the hard-working efforts of its staff,” said Mr Roban. “Notwithstanding, DPT has, and will continue, to put into place short-term remedies while, at the same time, working towards long-term effective solutions. As such, the Government would like to acknowledge and thank the public for its patience at this time.”

  • Featured photo courtesy of DCI