BBA rails over UNDP electric bus grants

The content originally appeared on: Amandala Newspaper

The Ministry of Transport, Belize City Council, and UNDP are poised to implement the “Driving Belize to Electric Mobility” pilot project, with grants approved for the purchase of three electric buses, but the Belize City bus operators want a slice of the pie.

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Sept. 26, 2022

The Belize Bus Association (BBA) and Belize City Shuttle have sent a letter to the resident representative of the United Nations Development Program, to object to the approval of grants to be issued to the Belize City Council and Ministry of Transport for the purchase of electric buses—a move which they say will displace operators in Belize City, where the public transportation sector is already saturated. The rollout of the pilot project to test the feasibility of electric buses in Belize has been in the making for some time, following the launch by the Belize City Council, in partnership with the European Union and UNDP, of the e-transit and electric bus initiative, geared toward finding low-carbon transport alternatives and reshaping the transport system to ensure increased reliability.

Mayor Bernard Wagner said that Belize City was selected as the municipality in which routes would be identified for these buses, and he noted that a total of three such buses would be procured for Belize City. The objective is to have those buses in operation for one year in order to gather the required data that would provide a snapshot of how the new system would function. The proprietor of the Belize City Shuttle, Phillip Jones, however, is calling for operators in the city to get a seat at the table, and perhaps even a chance to operate their own electric buses.

“When I heard that talking about city buses being electric and the Council would be the one solely responsible to manage and maintain them under the pilot project for the UNDP, me and the members we were concerned because one, we are dealing with an over-saturated market, and two, if that comes in, it will put us at a disadvantage because my understanding of grant is free. I don’t know how free it is, so my concern in the city is that will greatly displace us,” said Jones, who is also part of the executive of the BBA.

The letter to the UNDP asserts that the introduction of the electric buses could disrupt the revenue streams of up to three buses, and it thus points out that the only equitable approach would be one that includes the bus operators.

“We propose that the pilot be executed with the existing stakeholders,” the letter stated.

He said that the existing bus operators are the most appropriate entities to implement the pilot project in partnership with the government and UNDP, with the letter stating that the bus operators have “extensive real-life experience with managing bus fleets and years of commitment to the development of the industry.”

“Why are we excluded from sitting with the UNDP along with the members that are getting this grant. We should be a part of this; we shouldn’t be excluded. If you say you want to improve the transportation industry, who is the fittest one? We have real-time experience, knowledge we have been doing this from we jumped out of pampers, most of us. So why is it that we are not included?” Jones questioned.

“We need to have a level playing field. You can’t put us at a disadvantage. You cannot do that; that’s unfair for the association; that’s unfair for the bus industry,” he said, questioning how a pilot project could be done with no inclusion of members of the bus association.

Jones said that they have not received a response yet from the UNDP regarding the letter but were recently told that they could apply for grants.

“We’d like to have a sit-down with them to see how we can help the industry and improve the quality of buses,” he went on to say.

The letter from the BBA states, “The proposed pilot … will confirm through critical data gathered whether future investments in electric buses will be viable.”