MONTEGO BAY, St James — A war of words is escalating between local authorities and bus drivers who use the parking space between the north gully and the KFC premises on Howard Cooke Boulevard in Montego Bay.
The drivers, who say the space lacks basic amenities, have vowed to stop paying fees until their concerns are addressed. However, the St James Municipal Corporation is adamant that it has always been clear that the park is a temporary facility and drivers who fail to pay will be asked to leave.
Roy Vassell was among the disgruntled transport operators who made it clear, Monday morning, that improvements must be made.
"We're not going to pay any fee. Clean up the place, raise the park fee, make it look like a park. We have teachers, we have police, and we have lawyers that take buses inside here and use it. We have all kinds of people that use and take the vehicles inside here, why not clean it up," he complained.
"The place here is filthy, it's just pure marl. When it rains it is muck and when it dry it's pure dust. Now the [coronavirus] all around us and they won't do nothing at all about it," he added, pointing out that the park is unsanitary.
Vassell said drivers' efforts to leave the park last Friday were scuttled by the corporation, which used a truck and bus to block the exit. He said the corporation's promise, made that day, to clean the area was not kept. So on Monday they decided to stop paying fees.
"We need to see running water inside a the park, we need bathroom facilities. We don't even have that and look at the virus them that are going around; we cyaa live so every day," lamented driver O'Brian Shaw.
"This cyaa healthy and it nuh healthy for nobody. Not even a mad man this nuh healthy for much less decent citizens who a travel. This nuh make no sense at all and we have been going through this over the past two and a half years now… and nothing can be done. No man, this a joke thing and every day them collect $250," he added.
Similar sentiments were expressed by Noxroy Dixon who complained about inadequate garbage collection in the area.
"You have a lot of pampers in those rubbish bins how much months now. They are there and you can see that they are not something fresh; they are there from all these months so they don't care for our health or the people them. They don't even have a little covering when there is no bus here... and when the passengers come and rain is falling, where do they go?" he groused.
The drivers, who ply the Montego Bay to Falmouth route, also complained that the park becomes a pool of mud whenever it rains, said they are willing to pay more if the authorities fix the facilities.
"They need to clean up the place and make the place stay proper as a bus park. We have over maybe 100 buses; if parish council look at 100 buses at $500 dollars, if them fix in here, what's the revenue to St James parish council?" said Vassell.
The municipal corporation's CEO Gerald Lee said those who will not pay the fees will be denied access and can go back to playing a cat and mouse game with the traffic police.
"If they not paying the fees then they can't use it. We would have to let them go and let the police continue to harass them; or they go and use the [transport centre]," he stated.
"We can't spend money and create a facility for them [and they refuse to pay]. We could take that place and use it for parking; or the vendors need space," he added.
He said he would contact the commercial services department to determine if the bus drivers have in fact halted payments.
The CEO also said he was surprised by the drivers' stance as the plan was never to make the area they are using into a permanent bus park. In the past, the bus drivers operated from the yard of the fire station on Barnett Street but that arrangement ceased when work began to build the new station. Their current location was provided as a way to keep them off the streets.
"I'm surprised now they are talking about facilities when they were well aware that we were giving them that place to prevent them from parking on the street and be hassled by the police. If they are not satisfied with that, they can go to the transport centre which is where they are supposed to go. So I don't what is it they are expecting us to do. We didn't intend to develop that area as a transport centre," he explained.
"There is a bathroom which is adjacent to the park, it is right by the library car park, we did a bathroom there. It is less than 100 metres from where they are, you just walk up a little, it's just across the road and that is the bathroom they are supposed to be using and that's what we said to them from the beginning. We could argue that when they were on the streets, they were not quarrelling about bathrooms," he added.
According to Lee, the only work they intend to do on the area is to have it paved as part of plans to convert it into a multi-use space to accommodate pan chicken vendors.