The City Council announced last week that it would take the traffic situation in hand. It is unlikely that the City Council would have known that funds would be allocated in the budget for this purpose. After disastrous past experiences, the City Council should not be allowed to preside over parking arrangements for mini bus and taxi parks in the city. The Municipal and District Councils Act gives it no such power. It is a Police function, which appears to have been abandoned, as the City Council assumed jurisdiction.
Starting from the core area outside Stabroek market, occupied by the yellow Motor Transport buses between the 1950s and 1970s, mini bus and taxi parks expanded. Between Avenue of the Republic and Water Street they occupied from Hadfield Street to Regent Street, from the National Assembly to the Bank of Baroda with the bulk in the Stabroek Market/Demico House and the Regent Street/Commerce Street areas. About ten years ago the City Council decided to further expand these areas for use by mini buses and taxis.
This expansion went eastwards, taking over portions of the western limb of Avenue of the Republic from Croal Street on the south to Robb Street on the north, going east into the northern side of Robb Street between Avenue of the Republic and King Streets, outside Demerara Life. In this area, apart from Demerara Life, three new parks were set up. These were 1. between Croal Street and America Street on both sides of the road, 2. in front of the New Building Society’s former offices but on the eastern side of the road and 3. in front of the building which then housed Central Garage, that is, from Regent Street to Robb Street on the western side of the road. This left open the possibility that parks could be established around the areas of St. George’s Cathedral, the Bank of Guyana and the National Library.
Legal action was promptly taken by Demerara Life, which stopped the proposed mini bus and taxi park just outside of its premises in Robb Street. No one else took action. In a few short years the entire portion of Avenue of the Republic from Croal Street to Robb Street became engulfed with mini buses, taxis, passengers, touts and vendors, jostling with each other, mini bus horns, increased crime, increasing garbage on the parapets, foul language and frequent fights among touts for passengers. The courts were severely affected by the noise of mini bus horns. It had become a nightmare.
This situation, then and now, prevails around Bank of Baroda, which is surrounded by Mini bus and taxi parks and severe traffic congestion, with parking on both sides of a narrow Avenue of the Republic and a perpetual traffic jam in Regent Street just outside the bank. Policemen are never seen and parked mini buses overflow into moving traffic. To this day the intolerable situation of a taxi park continues to exist in Charlotte Street outside the window of the Chief Justice’s (ag) office in the High Court building.
Cameron & Shepherd, New Building Society and Central Garage launched legal proceedings several years, after Demerara Life, for a declaration against the City Council and the Commissioner of Police that the parks were unlawful and to remove them and prevent mini buses and taxis from parking in the areas. The declaration and order were granted and the parks were shut down, but not before an application had to be brought against the Commissioner of Police for an order for him to be committed to prison for refusing to obey the order of the court.
This was necessary because after the Court had granted the orders, the Minister of Home Affairs, then Mr. Clement Rohee, refused to intervene and invited me to instead take him to Court (talking about arrogance!). Since the Minister was not a party to the proceedings, the action against the Commissioner was the next best thing. This triggered the desired action and Ministers Rohee and Benn visited the area and gave directions.
Business potential in some areas between Avenue of the Republic from the Bank of Guyana and High Street, on the east, and Water Street to the west, are developing. The Tower Hotel is being refurbished and large constructions are taking place in Water Street. There are no mini bus and taxi parks in this area. No business developments of any kind have taken place or will take place in the mini bus and taxi areas because of the chaos there. Business and investment are not attracted to areas that are inhospitable for business expansion.
There are several areas in Georgetown where mini bus and taxi parks can be established with the aid of the private sector, without interference to business or without discouraging investment. One such place is the old railway station. It is hoped that the Government, the Police, the City Council and the Private Sector Commission can get together, dust off already existing plans and reports, to see how this situation can be resolved. It is a huge challenge requiring a solution for the long term with the interest of the city and commuters in mind. Such an initiative in now urgently needed.