By Andrew Carmichael and Mohanlall SeulallMinibus operators on the West Coast of Berbice (Region Five) on Monday parked their vehicles in protest at Government’s apparent lack of response to the hike in fuel prices, which the operators are feeling at the pump.School children were left stranded as the operators assembled at Bath, West Coast Berbice, seeking to draw attention to their plight and also to organise themselves to become a unit so they can take their case to the Government. Route 50 (Rosignol/Georgetown) operators, however, do not have an association.As the protest grew on Monday morning, operators blocked the road to other operators who had boycotted the strike. Those buses could not pass Bath. However, as senior Police ranks arrived on the scene, protestors were prevented from stopping and blocking buses that were operating.Essequibo minibus and hire car operators holds up placards in protest of the high fuel pricesThose who supported the strike were mainly minibus owners. Those who just operate the buses remained on the road, claiming that they had to deliver the owner’s $5000 fee by the end of the day.More than 60 percent of the buses plying the West Coast Berbice and Rosignol/Georgetown route are not operated by the owners.The owners are calling for an increase in the short drop fare, which has remained at $100 for almost two decades. The Rosignol/Georgetown fare has been increased from $700 to $800.Berbice minibus operators congregate as they withdrew their services on Monday over Government non-interventionMeanwhile, one of the owners, Rawana Ally, told this publication that the proposed increases to cushion the fuel price hike are not much in the bus operators’ opinion. He said it is being proposed that the fare for school children move from $60 to $100, and the adult fare from $100 to $140.“Is only $40 we want to put on, not much. The gas raise several times and we cannot take it anymore. This is over too much; it is too costly to run vehicles on the road now because of the high cost to maintain the vehicle. Government calls for news tyres which are very expensive, $12000 to $15000 for a new tyre, whereas we use to get tyres for $4000,” he said.He added that all he is seeking was a decent wage. He noted that a decent wage would be five thousand dollars: $3000 for him and $2000 to put aside for maintenance of the vehicle.“…you have to service the vehicle, then you have to pay a conductor; all these are bills that are reaching you, and you still have a family to maintain and to deal with the high gas price,” he explained.Meanwhile, Garcia, who owns and conducts a minibus running the Rosignol/Georgetown route, said she nets about $15,000 daily. She noted that $10,000 is used for gas and the remaining $5000 has to pay her and her husband, who is the driver, and she still has to maintain the bus.The Route 50 buses are not licensed to pick up passengers along the East Coast of Demerara. Hence, they can take only passengers going from Berbice to Georgetown and vice versa.Meanwhile, Region 5 Chairman Vickchand Ramphal, who met with some of the bus owners, told this newspaper that he is very concerned, not only about the impact the strike could have on the small man, but from a financial standpoint, the Region is already contracting financially.“I am in solidarity with the people here in Region Five. The recent increase in gas would have taken tremendous financial burdens on the bus operators, and knowing that our region is already contracting financially, it will only place more financial burden on our people,” Ramphal said.Ramphal called on the administration to address the fuel hike issue as early as possible, “so the bus operators can continue with their daily trade and the people in Region Five can continue to do their business as per normal.”Essequibo Coast protestMeanwhile, operators of minibuses and hire cars on the Essequibo Coast, Region Two, have also decided to take drastic action by striking on Monday to protest the constant raising of fuel prices.According to the drivers, they are fed up with the system and are calling on the Government to immediately reduce the price for fuel, which at present is far too high for them to survive in the transportation business.Deputy Mayor Darshan Persaud said the failing rice industry drove many farmers into the transportation sector for survival, and if the Government doesn’t intervene, there will surely be a rise in crime and other illegal activities.President of the Essequibo Coast Minibus and Hire Car Association, Mohammed Nazmul, said that due to the banning of foreign used tyres and the high cost for spares, the transportation sector in Guyana is in very bad state, and maybe now the final blow to kill it is being administered.An effort was made by the association to meet with the Regional Executive Officer, but he instead asked that they put their concerns in writing.Also present on scene was the Prime Minister’s Representative, Karran Chand. The bus operators have said they are not satisfied with the way they have been treated, and will continue protest action until someone listens to them.