The problem of Jamaica’s urban public transport. Signs of a caring government?

This morning, I was headed toward Spanish Town. At about 7am, I was hailed by a man who recognised my car and wanted a ride to the place I was headed. I stopped and let him in. I asked him how long it took him to get from Spanish Town to where we met. He said he’d left home at about 5.30am. He explained that buses were hard to get because during the early morning rush hours toward Kingston, the buses are often full and getting a spot is hard. I could relate to that.

Crowded bus transports in Kingston
Crowded bus transport in Kingston

As I had been heading west, I had noticed–not for the first time–that the JUTC buses headed east into town were jammed pack. All I could see was buses with people standing, even pressed against the front windscreen. As I was about to stop for the passenger, I noticed a large JUTC bus and a smaller minibus in new JUTC colours stop to pick up some of the 30-40 people waiting at the junction of the Mandela Highway where I turned toward Caymanas Golf Course.

Once again, it’s useful to watch carefully what Jamaicans do. I’m a lucky citizen who does not need to use public transport in Jamaica to meet my basic needs. I had to do it in London and Washington DC, and I have never seen such travel conditions on a regular basis without people really taking a very vocal and physically unfriendly stance. Maybe, I have missed it, but when was the last time we heard about, read, or saw bus riders in open protest against bus operators? That is a completely open question.

I visualised one of these over-filled buses crashing and what the consequences would be. We know that JUTC has some hefty claims facing it from previous accidents.

JUTC bus on fire
JUTC bus on fire

We know that a spate of bus fires occurred last year. We know that people have made sport of throwing stones at JUTC buses, and just a few days ago firing shots. This is carnage waiting to happen. Is that the sign of a government that is really caring for its people. Words and deeds need to match.

It takes an amazing amount of tolerance to endure the kind of conditions I saw today and have seen often on Jamaican roads. I saw it in Conakry, Guinea, in west Africa.

Conakry traffic chaos
Conakry traffic chaos

That city was generally in total chaos during morning and afternoon rush hours, and even worse when the summer rains occurred. Bus riders in such situations are often crammed into small minibuses or taxis for maybe two or more hours every work day.

But, Guinea is one of the world’s poorest countries and they have been on the verge of bankruptcy for many years, and have suffered several coups during the past few years, and has real problems providing water and electricity to its population. Yes, there is a similarity, but that’s a convenient fact. Jamaica is a far better organized and functioning country, Yet, we have managed to screw a large part of what we deem to be our assets–workers and school children. Do we believe we are doing our best by our people?

Moving around rural areas and from those areas to and from Kingston remains another challenge. Makka juk everywhere fi true.

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)