Prime the pump
January 10, 2023
Public Transport and safety issues – Part 2

Last month I was involved in a motor vehicle accident in Kingstown. The driver of the vehicle that collided with mine was aggressive and abusive when I refused to accept responsibility and insisted that he called the Police.

Driving on our roads is a dangerous risk we take each time we make the decision to go behind the wheel. As a responsible driver, we are required to drive for ourselves, fellow drivers and pedestrians. A welcome change for 2023 will be to have more responsible drivers on the roads.

A couple weeks ago, we began a three-part series on road safety with guest contributor Eric Kipps, Road Safety Constant. Today, we share another segment of his article “The Monster Bus. Road Safety and the Caribbean Minibus Culture: Taming a Monster”.

In our last article, we ended in the middle of an interview with The Sunday Gleaner, Jamaica, and Head of the Police Traffic Division, Senior Superintendent Radcliff Lewis. Lewis said “I am prepared to go to court on their behalf because is full time now that we deal with these undisciplined drivers. Everybody is speaking about these men. They have no respect for the law, they have no respect for the road-traffic laws and they have no respect for people’s lives.”

A travel advisory for Barbados described the ZR, pronounced Zed-R as “a great choice for travelling along the island’s south coast. Travelling by ZR van is quite an experience as they are known for their high speed, loud music, sudden stops and packing in as many passengers as possible. “A country report used by Americans stated “Minibuses have been involved in the majority of fatal vehicular accidents in recent years, and official Americans are barred from using them. You should use taxis for transportation”, the article advised.

Like in other regions, safety issues associated with the Minibus have many times proven to be deadly. Research shows that thousands of persons have lost their lives or have been seriously injured in crashes involving these Minibuses.

In recent times in the Caribbean region, we have had some very horrible crashes which have resulted in a great number of lives lost. In October 2010 a vehicular accident in Susannah village, Corentyne Berbice, claimed the lives of 13 persons and hospital authorities said that at least five others were critically injured.

Officials at the New Amsterdam Hospital said that a baby was among those killed when a truck collided with a Minibus. Reports said that the Minibus has been speeding in heavy rainfall. In November 2012, as many as 18 persons lost their lives when a Minibus plunged over a cliff in St. Lucia.

St. Vincent joined the countries in the Caribbean who have had multiple fatality crashes when a Minibus with as many as 20 persons plunged into the seas in January 2015, claiming the lives of five children with two still unaccounted for. The carnage continued in February 2015, when a Minivan plunged into a river killing five pre-teens and a teacher. These are just some of the recent examples of the deadly effects of the minibuses in the Caribbean.

In this two-part article I will look at the probable causes and solutions to this serious but largely under stated problem with our transport system in the Caribbean.

The Cause of the Problem

To better understand the issue, we must first look at the genesis of the minibus in the region. Public transport in the region. Public transport in the region is almost exclusively supplied by a relatively fragmented private sector.

The pattern of decline of the public transport sector was similar in many developing countries, between 1960 and 1990. Many of the government run public transport services crashed or were significantly impacted by a combination of high costs of operation and budgetary incapacity.

The story of the Jamaica Omnibus Service (JOS) is a prime example. Robert Cervero in his book informal Transport in the Developing World give clear insight into the JOS. The service started in the late 50’s but in the late 1970s the government was faced with declining revenues at the JOS, they decided to implement a hybrid mishmash of Robots (Minibuses) route taxis alongside the Jolly Joseph buses.

By the time the Jamaica Labour Party government came to power in 1980, the system was in chaos and Prime Minister Edward Seaga’s free market approach was to make the JOS inoperable and hand the system into the ground as a law unto themselves. According to Garfield Huggins in the Observer article “the problem developed as a consequence of economic problems of the times causing the scheduling of buses to fall apart, frequent breakdowns became commonplace, and management of the service went south.

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