Wednesday, March 4, 2009


image photo of Guatemalan mini-vans used in public transportation. This is at the ferry crossing of Xayache, Peten.


After just finishing a 900 mile tour through Guatemala using public transportation and being familiar with Mexican public transportation, the lack of progress in Belize puzzled me. For many decades now, we have utilized the SCHOOL BUS system, imported from the USA. It not only makes us look backward as a country, it is not nearly as efficient as that for example of our neighbor Guatemala.
The Guatemalans have for the most part replaced their old antique school bus system, by MINI-VANS. In pondering the relative merits of the School Bus system of Belize with the Mini Van system of Guatemala, I can only come to the conclusion, that the Guatemalan mini-van public transportation system is superior to what we are doing in Belize.
How is it superior? For one thing, you do not have crowds of people packed like sardines standing in the middle aisle. For the purposes of diversification and security, the many more mini-vans give a more reliable method of public transportation, than the single school bus system we use in Belize. Public Service is much better. It takes about five mini-vans to carry the same amount of passengers as a school bus. They do however run faster and smoother. Everybody has a seat. Service is increased according to time of day and public demand. For instance, School Buses in Belize are roughly around 30 minutes apart on the Western Highway. They are rough, uncomfortable and often overcrowded. If you used mini-vans in Belize, then service could be every 10 minutes, or 5 minutes, as they carry smaller passenger loads. Capital investment is much smaller. Thus you would improve service to the public by a more steady continuous passenger service. Each mini-van requires a driver and a conductor. We even rode in one, run by two sisters, about 21 and 18 years old respectively, which impressed me with the entrepreneurial opportunities. This immediately supplies more jobs for people in the nation as entrepreneurs. The average run for a Guatemalan mini-van is two hours, at a cost of $6 Bz., or portion thereof. Basically the same cost of transportation within Belize now. Then we switched mini-vans. What worked very well, was that each run was orderly, the mini-vans were in a queue and loaded in turn. If a run, ran on a time schedule of ten minutes, loaded or not loaded that next van in line, took off. If passenger traffic was heavy for a particular time of day, then as soon as they were loaded, off they went ahead of the ten minute schedule. This gave incredible efficiency and speed of service, compared to the antiquated colonial system used in Belize. At two points on our tour of Eastern Guatemala, our particular mini-van would come to a junction of roads and might be turning left to go to the town some 20 miles away. We would want to turn right and had to change mini-vans, to go to a different town. The drivers were using cell phones to contact each other, and always we had a mini-van waiting for us at our remote rural junction going in our direction. You probably do not get that kind of cell phone service in rural Belize though, by BTL. I asked them how they got such good cell phone service in remote rural areas, behind hills and valleys? I was told it was because of competition in telecommunications. It was extremely easy to travel and cheap in Guatemala on public transportation. One USA tourist couple we met in Lanquin, said they took a hired TOUR VAN from Flores to Lanquin and the trip took them 10 hours and a LOT of money. Our same trip by public service ran the same length of time, though we went and over nighted in Coban, in another direction, which we wanted to explore, before taking a side mini-van to Lanquin the next day. We saw more for the same time and much, much lower price. Long distance runs were done by Pullman coaches, or the Greyhound type more luxurious buses. These at least gave a comfortable ride with reclining seats, ticketed seating and good shocks and springs. Some have toilets and movies. The rural roads in Guatemala are mostly paved, superior to anything we have in Belize.
I suppose you could phase out school bus investments in Belize by the license system? As the hours on current school bus usage depreciates the value and functional capability of the vehicle, new licenses solely issued for better quality transport vehicles, could be used to encourage more entrepreneurs to enter the public service transportation system, using mini-vans. In time of natural disaster, such diversification would build in self reliance for immediate service and recovery. Something for our transportation policy people to think about anyway. We can certainly IMPROVE our current, old fashioned colonial, public transportation system.
When it comes to economic energy policy, natural gas, or butane driven public transportation will replace both more expensive diesel and gasoline vehicles. As we are orientated to buying USA products, our entrepreneurs and public policy figures should know that most South American countries are converting, or have converted to NATURAL GAS driven vehicles ( butane ). This is the subject of congressional debate in the USA to save foreign exchange, or reliance on foreign oil imports. As it is, when it comes to public transportation, the USA is inefficient and backward compared to South American countries. The debates in both Congress and committees reveal they are aware of this and trying to figure out how to encourage a changeover to natural gas driven vehicles for the USA. You want new buses, buy them from South America. Probably Colombia, or Brazil? They don’t make these more modern efficient types in the USA yet. Though some few hundred thousand such buses are found already in the Los Angelus area.
The wife and I want to revisit some areas of our 5 day whirlwind trip and after debating the merits of driving our own pickup truck, versus the public service bus system of Guatemala, we have decided it is faster, more convenient and probably cheaper to just utilize the existing public transport in Guatemala, than drive ourselves.

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