This blog is part of a series for the Blogging Abroad Blog Challenge. This blog is going to focus on details. Since my last blog was on money and I focused on travel I am going to stick with the theme of travel.
In Jamaica there are many modes of transit:
• Route Taxi
• Personal vehicle
• Commercial vehicle
• Hackey or Charter Taxi
• Robot or White Plate Taxi
• Route Buses
• JUTC Buses
• Tourist Buses
• Fishing Vessels
• Pleasure Vessels
• Donkey Carts
• School Buses
• Coasters and mini buses
The list is long and I am going to describe some of these forms of travel. By far my favorite is walking or biking for short distances. I refuse to pay a small fee for travel I walk or bike to. In the larger cities there are JUTC buses and these are much like city buses world-wide. They are large, they have comfortable seating and they usually have AC on. These buses cost between $100-$150 JD (Jamaican Dollar is equal to ~$119 USD) depending on the distance you plan to travel. These buses run on a route and are typically on a schedule. This is the only form of transit I have found to be on a schedule.
The tourist buses can cost steep money. I have heard a bus from Falmouth to Ochi is about $80 USD. I have never used these because the cost is prohibitive when I can get to the same distance for $500 JD. Richard learned the benefit of local travel this last month. I do want to mention one other form of travel here, the Nutsford Express. This is also a route bus on a schedule that cost between $2000-$3500 JD. These buses run all across the island and they have comfortable seats with AC and free WIFI. These buses are used by persons trying to get to a flight on time without staying overnight at a hotel. Again I have not ridden these, but I hear they are nice.
Route Taxis are a set fare and you ride packed in. For me a route taxi will cost $130 JD to get to my community $250 to drop at my doorstep. Route taxis will deviate from the route for extra money. This is convenient when you have much to carry. I do want to note that most grocery stores will send a young man with a cart to the taxi park to carry excessive groceries for you. A tip is generally expected but there is no extra charge for this. If you get to a taxi that has room for one more you consider yourself lucky to not have to wait for the taxi to fill up. You see a taxi driver does not want to carry less than 5 persons up the hill to make it worth his time. Yesterday I was first to get to the taxi and I was lucky to get the front seat. My driver took off about 5 minutes after I got in, there were no other passengers and I began to worry that he thought it was a charter. My worries ended when at the hill bottom he picked up a single woman and a man with a baby. We rode up and dropped them off and I realized this man was getting a charter of goods to carry up in the community and that is why he left when he did. The three passengers were just a bonus for him. A normal taxi ride consists of 4 persons smashed into the back seat, if there are kids there are more since the kids here do not count as fare or a person. If they know there is not police check-point they will put 2 persons in the front seat. The idea of a seat-belt is silly at this point. I once watched the driver of a coaster bus put on and take off his seat-belt 6 times in the span on 20 minutes due to police check-points. I found this oddly amusing. Technically seat-belts are required for children under 18 but I have never seen a taxi with children buckled up. If you see a woman with a child you do not offer her the front seat. This is the one safety precaution they do take, no children in the front seat unsecured. I do believe this would give them a huge fine.
A route bus can either be a coaster or a mini-bus. A mini-bus is a van with 4 rows of seats in the back. I read the maximum capacity on my bus yesterday was 12, we had 20 in that bus! The back seats have a 2 person seat with an aisle and a single person seat. They will put a board or a hand fashioned seat in the aisle and put 5 across if they can. I felt lucky yesterday we only had 4 across. The front seat will have at least 2 facing the front and sometimes they have a 3rd person facing the rear. As dangerous as this sounds once the bus gets going you all pretty much settle in and it is packed enough that no one is being thrown forward much.
A coaster bus is a lot bigger. It has a higher capacity and most seats have a jump-seat attached to it. These are often put down on a support to strengthen it and they put 5-6 across depending upon size of people. The hardest part of travel is that people often set themselves in the back and want off early in the ride. This requires those in the front to get out to let them out and readjust ourselves. It is like playing tetris with people!
A charter taxi is a taxi that you pay a steeper price for and you are the only one in the taxi. It is not picking up random people along the way. The best example are the airport taxis. You pay $20-30 USD to get to and from the taxi. Then later I discovered that the JUTC bus goes right there, if only my flights had not be too early or too late for the buses I could have save so much money.
A robot taxi or a white plate is an individual who is simply offering rides. The rates of the ride varies since they are not approved by the transit authority. I only use these late at night or when there are no red plates available. At night when the bus park is closed it is hard to find a taxi and after an hour of waiting you take whatever is going in your direction.
Most of the time there will be 2-3 different music playing on the bus. The driver has his own station or cd and then someone might have their cell phone on without headphones. For some reason this is accepted and no one ever tells them to turn it off. Often times people will be singing along and I have been tormented with hours and hours of Kenny Rogers on repeat. I miss my iPod! One thing you will learn here is that a DJ never plays a song all the way through and they always talk over the song. They love to play a section of a song on repeat over and over again and again. I tend to only listen when in transit. At home I listen to my very large and very diverse selection of music. Thank you Richard for gifting me your old iPhone so I can at least have some of my own music with me. It is greatly appreciated.
Transportation in Liberia and in Cuba is much like this as well. You pile as many into the vehicle as possible to ensure you make a profit over the gas. Instead of raising prices you raise the load. To us Americans this might seem crazy but to much of the rest of the world it is just a fact of life.