Columns

Say 'never again' to Jungle public transportation

GARFIELD HIGGINS

Sunday, May 18, 2014    

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"You can't understand a city without using its public transportation system." — Erol Ozan

'MIDDLE passage minibuses', 'School boy kills 'ductor', 'Shotta buses — dangerous rides', 'Seven Holmwood students die in bus crashes in two years', 'Preacher rebukes pregnant woman on Coaster bus', 'Four die in Clarendon minibus crash'; 'Sex Coasters — the newest fad.'

These are just a few of the tip-of-the-iceberg headlines from local newspapers that typified the nasty, ramshackle, and dehumanising public transport 'service' that existed in the Kingston Metropolitan Transport Region in particular for some 35 years.

How did it start?

In the early 1970s, in keeping with the new direction of Michael 'Joshua' Manley and what was called Democratic Socialism, the Jamaica Omnibus Service (JOS) [nicknamed 'Jolly Bus'] which was generally efficient [with respect to cost and the quality of service that it offered to commuters -- at least those are the recollections of persons I consulted] was nationalised.

Nationalisation was consistent with Manley's thrust for Jamaica to 'own the commanding heights' of the economy.

Of course, so many were so drunk on the ideological Kool-Aid of Socialism that scarcely anyone in the Manley Cabinet apparently asked whether Jamaica could have afforded the role of being the provider, saviour and sole arbiter for all, from the cradle to the grave.

But back to the birth of the Frankenstein minibus system which developed as a consequence of economic idiocy and political tomfoolery. After Government took over the JOS, fares were kept artificially low, scheduling of buses fell apart, frequent breakdowns became commonplace, and management of the service went south.

This created a vacuum, which was filled by enterprising owners of small buses and taxis who delivered a comparatively faster and 'reliable', but largely illegal service.

Naturally, the JOS was not able to compete with these minibuses and 'robots'. By 1983, the illegal service all but conquered the Corporate Area transportation system and this forced the Edward Seaga Government to turn off the engines of the supremely loss-making JOS.

The 'Jolly Bus' should have been restructured, retooled and rebranded, not retired. This was one of the three major mistakes made by Seaga during his terms as prime minister. Notwithstanding, Seaga is the most astute prime minister seen in the Caribbean over the last 50 years.

It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that most of the institutions that have real functional value in Jamaica today were conceptualised and implemented by Edward Seaga.

I could write an epistle on the disaster of a transportation set-up that continued after the death of the JOS and the ineffective route/sub-franchise system which was its bastard child. But, alas, there is not enough space in this newspaper. Suffice it to say that it was a set-up predicated on the rules of Devil takes the hindmost.

For years drivers and conductors, ('ductors' -- so named because they were half of what they were supposed to be) wore no uniforms, gave passengers tickets like Christmas 'deadlef' to orphans, abused schoolchildren, the disabled, pregnant women, and sometimes perverted men used the bus 'service' as a haven to satisfy their fantasies by rubbing themselves on young ladies until they ejaculated.

Essentially the transportation system created a necessity for hundreds of people to take a bath -- for one reason or another -- after taking a bus ride.

I am one of thousands of Jamaicans who received generous abuse from many 'ductors', 'badwud,' merchants and daredevil minibus drivers. I admit I might not be the most dispassionate person in the world on this issue, given my experiences.

Songs were made by local and foreign artistes about how bad our public transportation 'system' was. Here is a 'tupps' of the lyrics of DJ General Trees' number one recording Minibus.

[Verse 4:]

Now mi lef' from work with one intention

Just fi ketch a minivan and go a Portland

As mi hit West Parade here come three young man

One a hold on mi shirt and one a hold on pon mi hand

Mi haffi put down mi bag and stand up as a man

And tell di conductor dem my position

Dem a go a Westmoreland and one a go a St Ann

But my destination is to Portland

[Chorus:]

Minivan people control Jamaica

One driver, a dozen conductor

Where have all the jolly bus gone, long time ago

Where have all the jolly bus gone I, I, I don't know

Not to be outdone were the songs Two White Girls on a Mini Bus [you can YouTube it] by the girl group called the WORD, Deejay Professor Nuts' hit recording in the early 1990s Inna De Bus and De Blinkin' Bus by Lloyd Lovindeer, a former teacher of English at Kingston College. Some of Lovindeer's lyrics speak volumes.

So here we are

We no have no cyar

Cyaan pap no style

We business spwile

Dis kind a fuss

Mek Christian cuss

When we have to ride pon de blinkin bus

Yu fuss and cuss, when yu have to ride pon de blinkin' bus.

For those who are on the 'youngish' side, here are some of the lyrics of Inna De Bus that further illustrate the tragedy of the 'service' on the then popular 'Quarter Million' and 'Shaka' buses.

Me hear, one stop driver

Lef me bag

Oi Missa D yu arm smell bad

Hey likkle bway deh inna de

blue tam

Tek yu foot offa me corn before me get mad

Now de ducta deh come dung wid de money bag

An a shout fares please till im troat ole tiad

Hear a man bawl out only 10 cent mi have

Hear a man up a de front

Yu know me jus' get rob

De ducta sey wha?

De minibus stop

De ducta hol de man, gi de man couple slap

Fling im outa de bus, lan' im pon im neckback

Everybody find bus fare quick afta dat.

Scores of Jamaicans were emotionally, socially and physically incapacitated by the minibus system that existed from 1974 into the1990s. While there were numerous negatives about the Government of the 1990s, we owe much credit to former Prime Minister PJ Patterson and also to Dr Peter Phillips who was minister of transport in the 1990s.

That Administration started the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC). It was a bold and brave decision by the Government, but for governments to be worth their salt they have to be courageous and steadfast.

Let me declare that I hold no brief for the JUTC [my interest here is that of taxpayer], but we must admit that we, at least in the KMTR, now have a public transportation service which is significantly better than the one which was presided over by Ezroy Millwood and the National Transport Co-operative Society.

Yes! It is far from perfect, but now we can ride in buses that are, for the most part, clean, safe and reliable. Conductors and drivers are now in uniform and speak most times to commuters with respect. The slack, nasty and mentally debilitating music on buses is a thing of the past and one can expect some kind of recompense if injured on a

JUTC bus.

The fact that the buses are air-conditioned is appreciated by most passengers. I rode JUTC buses assigned to five routes 12 times over two weeks before I wrote this piece.

Praise the Lord! the preachers are off the buses. If that sounds irreligious, I beg pardon, as country people say. But nobody relishes someone spitting in your face while telling you that you are bound for hell and damnation.

I was an unhappy recipient of unwelcome precipitation on many occasions. As a student at UWI, Mona, I took the bus from the Irvine Hall back gate to Papine, downtown and elsewhere in the KMTR dozens of times.

Yes, we all know that the JUTC is not at break-even point financially [public transportation does not return a profit anywhere in the world, even though heavily subsidised] and that there are still many serious and gaping holes that need immediate attention. But all Jamaicans must say 'Never again' to the return of the minibus service that was born in 1974.

I understand the trepidation of the hundreds of investors who have lost their livelihood, having invested millions in the business of public transportation in the KMTR in particular. But there can be no excuse for stoning buses and injuring people.

Last I heard, damage to JUTC buses occasioned by stoning neared some $5 million. Those who are the 'stoners' and those on whose behalf they are doing the stoning, plus all taxpayers, are going to pay for these repairs. No one benefits from this kind of anarchy.

I believe the bus and taxi associations must continue to use the courts to wage their claims upon the Government. They need to be compensated properly; this does not have to be in purely monetary terms.

If after 50 years of political independence we cannot, as a country, develop and maintain a reasonable and decent public transportation system, then we might as well take down the Black, Green and Gold and raise the Union Jack once again.

We cannot achieve appreciable economic development without efficient, reliable public and cost-effective transportation in our country. This needs to be multi-modal. The train system needs to be revitalised, but that is another article.

All Jamaicans must say 'Never again' to 'Patty Pan' and 'Jungle' public transportation.

— Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Comments to higgins160@yahoo.com

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