By ALICIA WALLACE
Safe, reliable public transportation is not often a national discussion. We do, however, talk about it among ourselves, especially if we depend on it to any degree. Those who use public transportation regularly are both well aware of the challenges of the system (if we can call it a system) and skilled in making it work anyway.
Not as simple as it seems
For someone who has never taken the bus, it is difficult to understand how it is done. This may seem absurd if you think of the “catchin’ bus” as a simple option that can easily be part of everyday life that you have never experienced. It may not be until you realise you need to get somewhere and it is your only option that you understand the complexity of this simple option.
Do buses run in your current area and do they run near your destination? How many buses do you need to take to get where you are going? Which bus do you need to get on? If you have to change buses, where do you do that and is the stop for the next bus in a different location? How often do buses run there? Will you be able to leave before dark when buses generally stop running? You know how long it would take to drive there, but do you know how long it will take by bus?
Add to all this the concerns about available seating, having change, and recourse for someone — the driver or another passenger — putting your safety at risk and you may have enough reasons to pass on the event or, if you can afford it, pay someone to drive you.
Years ago, there was a page near the front of the telephone directory that listed the bus numbers and routes they took. I remember trying to learn some of these routes “just in case” although I could not imagine a reason to need to find my own way on the bus.
When the time did come that I needed to catch a bus, that information was no longer in the telephone directory and I could not find it online. I had to rely on people who had taken buses before. I learned the difference between the 21 and the 21A was critical, just like the difference between the 10 and the 10A. Do I want to go to the Cable Beach strip, or University of The Bahamas? I had to navigate the need to confirm that a bus was going where I needed to go by asking the driver and the simultaneous need to, as a lone woman, look anything but confused or uncertain in case anyone around was looking for an easy mark. As a woman moving around alone, nothing is ever simple.
In a recent conversation, I was asked to name the factors that determine whether or not I like a city. One of the first to come to mind was public transportation. I want to be able to get around, and I want it to be affordable, accessible, and safe. It is also nice when it does not take ages and involves no guesswork. We have all probably seen a bus, on duty, on a road it is not supposed to be on because the driver decided to take a short cut, or work their way around traffic. It is just too bad if you are waiting for a bus on the main road as the drivers all avoid it.
Who is the bus system for?
Earlier this week, a colleague was stunned when I said buses do not run at night in Nassau. Her response was: “That goes to show how we really feel about people living in poverty.” She asked me how women working night shifts got to and from work. Do they get rides from loved ones? Do they hire someone? Do they try to live near where they work and walk?
We do not live in a country where employers assist in meeting these needs. Even University of The Bahamas does not have a shuttle service for students. Many of us do not have to think about getting to and from work or school safely, and it is such a regular part of life for those who do, it rarely comes up in conversation or even as a suggested area for reform.
There are people with low incomes who need to get to or from work during off-hours for buses. There are differently-abled people who would like to use buses for transportation, but they are not accessible. Elderly people struggle to get on and off buses because of the steps. They deserve to access the same services as everyone else. The hours of operation and types of vehicles used are barriers to access that need to be addressed.
The promise of a unified system has resurfaced over the past few weeks, but the challenges that have been cited over and over remain. There is nothing to make us believe it is really going to happen this time, but it would be welcome.
Unifying the bus system would make a schedule for each route possible. It would mean real, visible, more strictly enforced bus stops which would do wonders for traffic. With buses running on a schedule, we should see less competitive driving which puts lives at risk. We would be able to see what time buses leave a particular location, how long a trip would take, and how to get from any one point to another in one handy bus schedule. We may even see bus tickets and bus passes make paying bus fares more convenient and affordable. None of this can happen with a unified system, and we desperately need it.
A more reliable bus system could result in more people using it. Many residents would like to drive less, save more money and decrease their carbon footprint. Look at the number of people upset about legislative changes to limit the use of mobile devices by drivers. There are quite a few people who would rather be talking to friends, reading a book, or playing a game on the way the work than focusing on the road.
We may see park-and-ride initiatives popping up along with others — including competitions, short-term projects, and promotions — that build community and improve the experience of living in Nassau for everyone.
Part of enjoying a place is getting around and seeing more of it. Part of it may also be reducing traffic, road rage, and the amount of money spent at the pumps or changing hands in exchange for door-to-door rides. Whether you take the bus or not, you probably think there are too many cars in Nassau, traffic is frustrating, and the buses are out of order.
Maybe we need more volume and enthusiasm to bring the order and convenience we need to make public transportation more accessible to those who need it and appealing to those who may not.