Recently the opportunity to use Public Transport was thrust upon me. An opportunity, made possible by none other than my good-for-nothing partner of sixteen years. It suddenly stopped working properly, complaining about overheating and refusing to start if it was hot. Confronted with a now useless piece of junk that has somehow acquired the mistaken belief that money grows on trees and that it is my sworn duty to make Kyffin Simpson and his progeny richer day by day.
I decided to try the much maligned Public Transportation, even if hailed as the best in the Eastern Caribbean by those in officialdom. Having not used the service in over a decade, I was a bit apprehensive. After nearly a month of using this service, I can tell those in officialdom this. Public Transportation in Barbados is as overrated as the services LIME claims to offer.
Everyone appears to ignore the official schedules, from Supervisors to Drivers. Punctuality in the morning, depends on making allowances for three hours of transit. Commuters arrive in the terminal on evenings fully expecting to find a scheduled service delayed by an hour or more and are genuinely surprised if it is not. It is not uncommon to see large buses, bound for urban destinations leaving the terminal with less than ten passengers, while four times that number are waiting for a delayed service.
The young people waiting for this service in the terminal are interesting to observe. From the immaculately dressed, decorated and desecrated females who BB as if their very lives depended on it. Occasionally eating snacks and sipping drink, they are as popular off BBM as they are on. Their names are constantly yelled across the terminal. Lucky fans get a smile and a wave. The not so lucky receive a cold stare and a pout for good measure. When their chariots arrive to ferry them to their various destinations and they leave, quickly replaced by more of their ilk, all that remains is the heady scent of their perfume and the garbage they left for the cleaners and recyclers to pick up.
To the slothful and spectacularly slobby stud muffins, relentlessly pursuing a seemingly never-ending stream of giggling girls, curiously captivated and amused by the crude and obscene remarks made by these modern-day Barbarians. They put their feet on the benches people have to sit on. Occasionally, some will leapfrog the queue and no one, including the suddenly invisible and visually impaired security people, will say anything to the offenders. No doubt people are grateful that these relatively minor infractions and nothing more serious are all these thugs perpetrate.
If the future leaders are among this lot, then the end times are not near. I fear they have already begun.
The large majority of bus shelters are found in urban and sub-urban districts. Not surprising since these are areas where many people live. These are also districts where people do not have to wait for more than thirty minutes and certainly not more than two hours for a bus. It is the exact opposite in rural Barbados. Few buses and even fewer shelters.
Whether town or country, inconsiderate people regularly stand on the seats with their dirty shoes, some will sit on the back of bench, with said dirty shoes soiling the seat, as much as their continued presence soils and pollutes the environment.
In the country empty Transport Boards buses travelling to Bridgetown, regularly overtake full buses at bus stops. This forces weary people, wary of the next bus arriving soon, to board a full bus and stand for the entire journey through slow-moving traffic on a rainy day. Surely a precursor to the last bus to hell if there ever is one.
Now the PSV sector regarded as an important cog in the wheel of public transportation. I do not doubt this assertion for one minute. I however doubt that it would be as important, if those responsible for the Transport Board were to get their act together.
It should not escape notice that these buses shadow the official schedules of the Transport Board, give or take a few minutes. As a result poor commuters have little flexibility in planning their travels. The loud volume at which the crap that passes for music on these vehicles plays, deters many, even if they would consider catching one just to reach their destination on time. Then during off-peak hours you have the dreaded dragging.
Imagine the torture you have to endure as a bus drives at 10 Km/h and you are acutely aware that you will be late for work the umpteenth time this month. All of this after receiving your second warning letter yesterday morning and leaving home with just two dollars . The last two dollars that you gave the imbecile’s conductor. The said conductor that is now turning up the aforementioned crap.
People put up with the PSVs because they have no choice. There is a vast difference in the treatment meted out to prospective commuters and those already snared. PSV drivers will wait five minutes for you to cross the street to board their vehicle. They will not wait five seconds for you to secure your belongings and self before “dragging off”. After 7pm you can count the number of PSVs operating on any particular route on one hand. You are nothing more than a commercial interest for the PSV operator . You pay them $2 for the privilege of being at their mercy.
Even as gas prices continue to spiral upwards, the current Public Transportation system in Barbados will not replace private transportation in the foreseeable future. Improvements to the current system to make it attractive are necessary.
A few suggestion :
Allow the PSV to complement and not compete with the Transport Board as is now the case.
More effectively allocate resources and allow dispatchers to exercise discretion. Why send out a bus with ten when you can send it out with Forty? Make the ABC Highway a central plank in a Transport Board Shuttle System with dedicated bus lanes during peak times. Develop more cross-country routes terminating at the ABC Highway, with tickets valid for transfers to Bridgetown and on the ABC Shuttle Service.