SPTC to roll out revised bus schedule in June to adjust to new normal | 22 May 2020
The Seychelles Public Transport Corporation (SPTC) is in the process or negotiating and finalising a new bus schedule to be rolled out in mid-June, as the public transport service provider struggles to meet demand for its services as the country adjusts to the ‘new normal’.
Chief executive of SPTC, Patrick Vel, yesterday, during a press conference organised by the department of health, noted that since the start of this week, SPTC has been experiencing difficulties in providing its regular service, on account of the social distancing practice which needs to be maintained on its buses and which has resulted in at least 50 percent reduction in its usual capacity.
“SPTC, with the new normal, have lost at least 50 percent capacity on our buses. With schools re-opening, we said we need to support schools and we are now providing around 90 buses in the morning and 90 buses after school for the transportation of pupils. We have not effected any changes to our public service bus schedule, but as I said, our buses are now taking less than half its capacity so of course, some people are having to wait longer than others but there is no public transportation system in the world which runs like clockwork,” he said.
“SPTC has 200 buses in the fleet and 198 drivers, and on average 184 drivers are working in one given day, so SPTC is already operating at full capacity. It will happen that buses will break down and drivers may fall sick but we are not compromising on break times for our drivers as the maximum steering time for a driver is 7.5 hours daily and each driver is entitled two days off per week, although it is now negotiating with drivers to take one day off a week to ease the pressure. This week has presented the opportunity to monitor the situation and we expect that by mid-June a new timetable will be rolled out,” Mr Vel noted.
Since the re-opening of professional centres and post-secondary institutions last Monday May 11, SPTC has resumed it services to such institutions without any major disruptions in its services but has, as of this week, with the reopening of primary and secondary schools, found itself faced with several challenges, leading to the decision to outsource transportation services to post-secondary institutions to omnibus operators.
“For post-secondary, with time constraints there was inadequate time for us to explore all the possible opportunities and with the limitation in human resource, we find ourselves knocking on the door of the Association of Omnibus Operators. SPTC started off last week providing transportation to post-secondary institutions as primary and secondary schools were yet to re-open and this posed no problem for SPTC, who usually provide the service, but as of this week, with the re-opening of primary and secondary schools, SPTC has had to let go and hand the responsibility over to omnibus operators to provide the service,” he said.
“A meeting is scheduled for today (Friday) to finalise the schedule with SPTC and omnibus operators and it is then that we will know exactly how many trips and only then will we be able to finalise the cost. We are currently managing by crisis and already, there is a lack of resources but we are having to reallocate these already scare resources, so the objective is to keep all costs at a minimum and it is important that we optimise the number of buses we have to provide the service needed,” principal secretary for land transport Patrick Andre stated.
Considering that the ‘new normal’ way of living looks set to stay, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the world and a second wave of the virus is to a certain extent expected locally, SPTC, together with stakeholders and the government, are exploring the possibilities of public private partnerships to allow the private sector to get involved in providing public transportation.
According to PS Andre, omnibus operators currently do not have the capacity to do so efficiently and assistance is being sought from the Ministry of Finance, Trade, Investment and Economic Planning to arrange for a consultant from the World Bank to discuss the idea and draw up a long-term plan.
For the time being however, any persons or entities that can provide support to SPTC are being urged to come forward and offer a hand in the short-term.
The cutback in capacity has led to complaints that members of the public have to wait longer than usual for bus services, especially on certain routes. However, SPTC is confident that after four days of running at full-capacity since the lifting of the prohibition on movement order, it has found solutions and is providing more buses on routes such as Anse Royale to Victoria and during peak hours, when most people are travelling to work.
Even as SPTC rolls out a new schedule, the transportation provider is still obligated to observe guidelines issued by the department of health and the committee established to draw up appropriate measures for the land transport sector. Bus drivers and omnibus operators have all been sensitised to spot possible symptoms of the coronavirus and the course of action if a passenger on their vehicles presents with such symptoms.
Despite the observation and maintenance of social distancing on buses, both Mr Andre and Mr Vel urged members of the public making use of its services to also observe social distancing at bus stops and bus stands and to avoid from crowding while waiting for the bus.
President of the Nurses Association of Seychelles and director of Family Health and Nutrition Programmes Rosie Bistoquet also emphasised the need for people to change their mindsets and to be more cautious.
Ms Bistoquet noted that the department is currently engaged in consultations so as to devise a plan to address the transportation issue and the challenges faced by SPTC. One of the possible solutions is to allow passengers to wear face masks onboard buses and to therefore reduce the need for social distancing, although such a decision is yet to be taken.