Local buses?

aA $5 million-a-year deal to supply buses to the Transport Board may be in the works for St Thomas bus manufacturer L&N Workshop.

Following a tour of the Cane Garden plant this morning, Minister of Transport Michael Lashley confirmed that a proposal to update the public utility’s ageing fleet with new busses would go to Cabinet in about two weeks and, when approved, a tender for the local supply of some of the vehicles would be issued while others are sourced from the traditional overseas supplier.

“We have to purchase buses to add to the fleet,” Lashley said, adding: “The question we have to ask local manufacturers is how quickly they can produce. If they can give us 20 busses a year that would be very great.

“If Transport Board enters into an arrangement with L&N Workshop, it means that we not only need three of four busses or so. He has to produce at least 20 to 25,” the minister said.

Speaking to Barbados TODAY on Tuesday in advance of the minister’s visit, L&N managing director Norman Edwards said: “We proposed to Government to do 20 buses over a year. It’s not going to be a difficult feat.

“We are looking at a realistic figure of approximately $5 million a year, at something like $25 million over five years,” Edwards added.

Lashley explained that while looking to the local manufacturer, the Transport Board would continue taking vehicles from the overseas supplier.

“We are not ruling out the fact that we have to engage persons who have provided Transport Board with buses year in year out.”

Though L&N appears the sole plant on island with capacity to build the vehicles needed by the Transport Board, Lashley was cautious not to speak of a contract with L&N as a done deal.

Explaining that any award of a contract must be done in a transparent manner, he said: “I think that there is a room for the Transport Board to enter into negotiations with not only L&N, but with other persons that produce locally manufactured buses.

“There are certain rules I have to abide by. Certain rules I have to follow. Someone might come and argue I gave L&N an unfair advantage over them,” he said.

But the minister made it clear that the deal for local manufacture of buses for the Transbord Board is assured,

“if you have a medium-sized businessman who can produce buses, who can employ Barbadians”.

Lashley spoke of the current fleet of buses, which are not only old but also were not subject to proper maintenance over the years.

“We have to strengthen our maintenance programme. Buses have to be maintained. If we bought buses ten years ago, 15 years ago, and we didn’t maintain them, at some in time there will be a breaking point. And you have to either try to get them back up on the road or write them off. Because you are dealing with the safety of the public.”

L&N’s Edwards told Barbados TODAY what a contract to supply the Transport Board with buses would mean to his company. “It would say a lot to us if the Government of our country bought our product. You feel a sense that you have arrived.”

L&N has its sights set on exports to Eastern Caribbean countries in the New Year, and Edwards said this deal with Government would be the encouragement he needs.

“You have the stamp of approval of your Government to export. If your Government rejected your product and went outside for another product, then who are you to enter somebody else’s country and sell them a product?”

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