EDITOR, The Tribune.
In 2012, after the fanfare of the election was over and all the appointments made, Minister of Transport and Aviation Glenys Hanna-Martin said that she was committed to resolving the poor state of affairs when it comes to the public bus system. Three years later, we are still in an appalling state and there appears to be no sign of relief.
I ride buses occasionally and my accounts here are first hand experiences.
(1) Most bus drivers don’t even allow you to sit down when you enter their bus. Once you get in the aisle, you better hold on for dear life, because they release the clutch very quickly all in attempt to reach the next customer first.
(2) Loud music is still a major problem on a lot of buses. I have literally received headaches after a bus ride because of the loud music played. Most of the songs played are from international artists and some of the messages are exceedingly vulgar. I am quite sure that some of the passengers have had to go to the hospital if they repeatedly catch these buses with loud music and that some drivers will inherently develop hearing problems later in life. It also seems that loud music is played sometimes because this attracts the school students who can be seen nodding their heads to the music and singing songs verbatim.
(3) Reckless driving is pervasive amongst jitney drivers. They overtake three to four vehicles at a time and they stop in the middle of the road to avoid another jitney from passing. In some instances passengers have to yell bus stop and this sometimes creates a problem because by the time the bus driver realises this, the passenger is well past his intended exit area. In other cases, drivers stop suddenly and try to hurry the passenger off the bus so that another bus cannot pass him.
(4) Drinking is another major problem amongst some of our jitney drivers. Bottles are not visible, but cups with ice along with the mixers can be clearly seen. I was on a bus recently and the female driver stopped the bus by a popular restaurant and said that she had to go pee. Of course she stumbled her way to the bath room and back, pulling up her pants after every five to six paces.
(5) Vulgar language is another key issue amongst jitney drivers. Even with the loud music, you can still hear constant foul language with no regard or respect for the passengers who in a lot of cases are school children.
(6) Some bus drivers also employ young men who collect the bus fare. These young men in a lot of instances hold the money in their hands in the plain view of all passengers. This is a security risk and increases the chances in my view of robbery.
(7) Taking short cuts is another issue that is widespread amongst jitney drivers. I have caught buses where drivers have veered off course where there was no traffic diversion. They go through side corners, parking lots, drive on sidewalks and sometimes cut their routes all in an effort to reach the next customer first.
(8) Finally, bus drivers sometimes drive too slowly when they are trying to collect passengers. This happens mostly in the early mornings. If you catch the bus at 6am and the next jitney is about eight to 10 minutes behind, the bus driver will park at some bus stops for several minutes, frustrating those passengers who are trying to get to work on time. Once another bus approaches, the race is on and bus drivers will literally do anything to reach passengers first. Some customers speak out against this, but the majority of passengers remain quiet because they fear being victimised and even being asked to exit the bus.
These are just some of the issues that bus passengers face daily. It is indeed a terrifying experience for thousands of Bahamians who catch the bus daily, with most of them having no other option to get to and from work.
Now there are some bus drivers who despite their wrong doings, go beyond the call of duty. They would go through corners when it is raining to drop off customers, they sometimes would allow customers to ride free of charge and some of them provide jitney service starting from as early as 5am and as late as 8pm.
Some of our jitney drivers always drive their routes, they drive safely and they provide passengers with a comfortable ride to their destination. These drivers are to be commended.
The poor state of affairs of the public bus service is not all the fault of the bus drivers. Owners also play an integral part in all of this because they have the capacity to initiate proper changes with the relevant government agencies. I ask the owners when will they pay bus drivers a weekly salary and do more to assist the government in providing better service to passengers.
Additionally, passengers still enter the buses without the exact fare and this causes traffic delays because bus drivers continue the practice of giving change. I have also seen where some persons refuse to pay the jitney drivers the correct fare and many times drivers have to settle for one dollar or even less. This is totally unfair to the drivers.
I know some may ask what I have done to contribute to a solution to this problem. I have had my share of encounters with bus drivers where I have told them that they have to allow me to sit down when I enter the bus. I have also complained about the loud music and the reckless driving.
I am saying to the honourable minister, who, I believe, does not ride on jitneys, to please as a matter of urgency and for the public good to rectify this situation forthwith. The Bahamian public would like to see your promise fulfilled. I know the traffic police are on the road and they are arresting bus drivers daily, but we need a total revamping of the public bus system.
In 1993 when I attended college, I was so surprised to see that buses actually ran on a schedule, with no music in the bus to irritate passengers. The drivers were properly dressed, they did not drink alcohol while driving, they did not swear and you had to pay the correct fare when entering the bus. There was no overtaking three and four vehicles and reckless driving was non-existent. This was 22 years ago.
Is this too much to ask to ensure the safety of jitney passengers and drivers? Shouldn’t passengers be able to enter a bus without the fear of ending up in the hospital because of our reckless and largely grossly under regulated public bus system? Can’t passengers have meaningful conversations without shouting, read the newspaper and feel safe while on a bus ride in 2015?
April 23, 2015.