Guyana had a thriving private bus transportation system that operated from Corriverton to New Amsterdam, from Georgetown to Rosgnol, from Timehri to Georgtown, from Parika to Vreed-en-Hoop, from Chairty to Supenaam, etc. In addition, it had a passenger rail system for similar routes except for the airport route and Essequibo. The transport system worked efficiently and people were able to get to places of work or markets or locations as well as move their goods. But the Burnham government, as part of its socialist thrust, wanted to own virtually everything. And in the process of wanting to own everything, it ruined everything. His entire move was driven by race hate.
Burnham decided to end the rail system in 1975, describing it as vestige of the colonial past. It was reported that the trains and the rail were uprooted and dispatched as a gift to Zambia, Africa.
The private bus system was a golden age of transportation in Guyana. They were scheduled and reliable. One knew when the bus was passing through a village. It blew its horn from a mile away and people would leave their home and come to the roadway to get on board. After the 1960s race riots, transportation became racially segregated with Indians traveling in Indian owned buses and Blacks in African owned buses. Almost all of the bus companies were owned and operated by Indians. With few Africans owned buses, Blacks experienced difficulties in getting transport. Indian operated buses would pick up Black passengers.
Whether for racial or nationalistic reasons, Burnham decided to nationalize the private bus system in 1976 and replace it with government owned buses. But the government owned no buses. Burnham was successful at conning Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India to grant him a loan to purchase India made Tata buses. Hundreds of buses were brought o Guyana to operate all over the country, replacing private buses. Burnham refused to compensate private bus owners for putting them out of business. Burnham pauperized bus owners. Burnham never repaid the loan to purchase Indian buses, and the Indian government forgave the loan to Guyana. And the Indian population in Guyana was not major beneficiaries of the government owned bus system.
From 1976, private buses were banned from operating in Guyana. They were prohibited from picking up passengers or operating charters, Bus proprietors lost money; they could not recoup investments in purchasing buses. And private bus drivers and conductors lost their jobs. Government owned buses, supplied by the Indian government, hired primarily supporters of the ruling dictatorship.
Jagan was able to convince Burnham to contract the private buses to shuttle sugar workers to factory sites or canefields. Within a short period of their operations, the Tata buses experienced problems. They were not serviced or maintained – limited oil change and checks on water supply to cool engine. More and more buses were taken off the road as they were broken down. Bus service became scarce. By 1983, the Tata bus system had collapsed; bus cemeteries were observed in several parts of the country. There was a shortage of transport that lasted several years. And as bus transportation became very scarce and operations infrequent, Indian passengers were not picked up. I had personal experienced of Indians being unloaded from a bus to make way for supporters of the PNC.
After Burnham’s death in August 1985, Hoyte granted permits in 1986 for the operation of mini-buses. Eddie Grant was given duty free concessions and the first license to operate mini-buses. This was followed by license to others though not duty free concessions, to rescue the ailing transportation system. This would lead to a mini-bus culture that operated with great risk to lives — overloaded and speed driving with great safety risk. There were countless accidents and loss of lives. Drivers and conductors tend to be unruly and rude. They play very loud vulgar music. Too many lives were lost in mini-bus accidents from 1986 till now in dangerous driving.
Government may wish to consider returning to the rail system and larger buses that would provide greater protection and security to life than the mini-buses.