A PAPHOS based non-profit organisation has been banned by the transport ministry from using a donated mini bus to carry wounded service personnel during their holidays to Cyprus because taxi drivers have objected, the founder of the charity has said.
The charity is appealing to the ministry to reverse the ban and allow them to use their donated minibus
The van was donated to MARCH – Military and Retired Cyprus Holidays for Heroes – a number of years ago by Arriva UK, which operates bus, coach, train, tram and waterbus services in 14 countries across Europe.
“We were so grateful for the bus and excited to have it, it helped us tremendously and we only had to pay for the shipping costs. But for the last two years we have been fighting the ministry of transport for permission to carry on using it,” said Alan Wilson, who set up MARCH with wife Barbara in 2010.
MARCH operates holidays for injured or traumatised military serving or non-serving personnel and has become hugely successful over the last six years. The non-profit organisation has catered for all types of injuries including: tetraplegics, paraplegics, the blind, burns victims and amputees of all descriptions, and also those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Wilson would collect the wounded personnel from the airport in the minibus which is fitted with a chair lift, and was also available to drive them around during their holiday if required.
But for the last six or seven months, the bus has remained languishing in his driveway, following a letter from the ministry of transport preventing the non-profit organisation from using the mini bus for airport runs, or at any other time.
Wilson said the problem arose after a MARCH volunteer and member of a Paphos based amateur dramatic theatre company put a piece in a local paper which said that they would continue to sponsor the running costs of the bus, in return for using it to transport theatre goers from a nearby car park to the theatre, when necessary.
“Some local taxi drivers got hold of this and didn’t like it and the head of the local union turned up at our meeting with the road transport department in Paphos,” said Wilson. “We showed them photos of the people we are helping who are coming here on holiday. Some are severely wounded, or have suffered bad burns and many are wheelchair users. But they said that we are taking work away from them, stealing their work in fact, and they complained about us.”
Taxi drivers have long complained of private drivers cutting in on their trade by ferrying travellers to and from the airport for a fee and have done their upmost to stop the practice. But Wilson said the organisation has all of the documents for the bus which is clearly used for charitable purposes.
Andreas Themis recently took over as the head of the Paphos taxi drivers association and said that he was unaware of MARCH or any complaint made against the organisation by his association in the past.
However, he did say that if they were properly licensed by the government, they wouldn’t be facing any problems.
His colleague, George, also a taxi driver, said that the non-profit organisation must be up to ‘shady dealings’, otherwise the taxi drivers wouldn’t have complained in the first place.
“They must’ve seen the driver taking money; we are fed up with British people living here who are taking our jobs and then complaining about the taxi drivers. They take money for these journeys.”
Responding to the information that MARCH is a non-profit organisation for wounded soldiers so they may holiday in Cyprus, he said that although he respects the injured, he is fed up with these sorts of complaints.
“Everybody puts ‘charity’ in front of so many things. There are too many ‘charities’ in Paphos and they all do other jobs. Don’t tell me this is a charity, behind this is big business.”
The ministry of transport seem set on the idea that MARCH is obtaining money to transport visitors, as the theatre company said they would continue to sponsor the bus, said Wilson. But he noted that any sponsorship is used to run the service.
“I can’t seem to make them understand and it seems they are supporting the taxi drivers. There is no profit to be made here by us,” he said.
Wilson said that the former head of the taxi association dug his heels in over the matter arguing that there was a number of taxis which are equipped to transport wheel chair users and that MARCH was taking away income from them.
“We have been working with disabled and injured personal for a long time and we understand their needs, we have specialist knowledge and they feel comfortable with us. Also, the idea is that they don’t pay for their transport, if they need to go anywhere, I take them, and this is part of what we do. That’s why we have the bus. It’s heart-breaking,” he said.
Wilson said that MARCH had complied with all of the criteria regarding the minibus set out by the government, including removing a number of seats from the 17-seater bringing it down to 11.
An end to the problem may however be in sight.
After enquiries by the Sunday Mail this week to the road transport department, one official, Antonis Sharmas, contacted Wilson and said that he would help him go through all of the procedures correctly, so that the minibus can get back on the road.