Saturday, December 1, 2012

Public Transport bus system’s overhaul is long overdue

My use of the public transport bus system dates back to the mid 1980’s. I was a frequent user of the bus system and I used the bus to catch rides from school to home, to track practices, to basketball games and even to Junkanoo.  The bus system was a much needed service back then and it probably is even more important now because many Bahamians rely on this service to get to their jobs daily. Students use the bus to get to school and senior citizens use the bus to pick up their National Insurance checks and to visit the hospital.

Loud reggae and rap music, reckless driving and conversation that involve cursing and illicit talk were the norm in 1985. I can sadly say that 27 years later much of what happened in the past remains the same. In fact, because of the increased number of bus franchises now competing for that almighty dollar and a quarter, drivers take more risks to try to get to potential customers first.

I left Nassau to attend college in the early 1990’s. Can you imagine my surprise when I caught my first bus ride? There was a schedule of the bus times on the bus stop. You paid when you entered and the driver waited for you to sit down before he drove off. There was no change to receive. If a ride costs 50 cents and you paid one dollar, you knew to get your transfer and sit down.  Additionally, there was no loud music on the bus. If my memory serves me correctly, the radio was never played on the bus.

Andrew “Dud” Maynard appeared on the Sawyer Report sometime last year and he disclosed that affecting a scheduled bus system in New Providence was discussed from the early 1970’s. It is now 2012.

There have been several related deaths due to reckless driving by bus drivers and many other serious traffic accidents have occurred leaving passengers injured. Daily, bus drivers can be seen running the red light, making detours through gas stations, side corners, pulling off before a passenger is seated and driving across sidewalks. 

I had the misfortune of catching a bus when there were three busses competing for potential customers. This is when drivers are at their worst. Pulling across the middle of the road when a bus stop is requested, driving at over 50 mph in short bursts and pulling off before a passenger exits the bus are common occurences. The safety of the passenger is never considered.

There are even bus drivers engaging in illegal “tour bus” activities, where they bus students to sports events and other social gatherings. This is illegal and a blatant disregard for the law. Suppose an accident occurred during one of these illegal tours? I wonder who would cover the students’ medical cost.  An innocent observer must wonder if these acts are pre-requisites for maintaining a public service license.

There are a few bus drivers out there that are conforming to the traffic laws of the Bahamas, but we need more of them.  Busses with loud music and dark tints have contributed to the creation of a subculture among junior and high school students. On the 16A route, I have seen students wait for specific busses with tainted windows that play loud reggae music. Some of them would rather be late for school and take a round trip on a particular bus than to just simply catch a bus that will take them to school on time.

We have taken a band aid approach to solving this problem. The police at times do ticket bus drivers for breaking traffic laws, but we must address this problem from a holistic point of view. I have listed several recommendations below.

(1). Implement a scheduled bus system as soon as possible. I am sure the Ministry of Transport can locate past government studies that are locked up somewhere in storage.

(2). Allow the franchise operators 6 months – 1 year to organize themselves through partnerships. I would encourage the government to issue licenses for specific routes, for example the 16A route that travels on Carmichael Road.

(3). Put all drivers on a weekly salary once the new system is implemented.

(4). Review scheduled bus times yearly or as needed as per traffic flow.

(5). Control the content on what is played on all busses and the volume. I personally believe that all output devices should be kept off. This needs to be implemented today.

(6). Give powers to a governing body that regulates the public transport bus system and who will hear and resolve complaints by passengers, drivers and franchise holders.

(7). Ensure that all busses to be used meet a minimum standard of operability and institute impromptu equipment checks involving seats, brakes, shocks etc. Additionally safety records need to be kept for the life of the vehicle. Huge fines and penalties should be imposed on operators whose busses are not deemed as safe and who break violate regulations.

The year is now 2012 and Bahamians know that our current bus system continues to be in shambles. We are a civilized society and our continuance with this barbaric and dangerous bus system is beyond comprehension. Our legislators don’t have to reinvent the wheel to fix this issue.

Bahamian artist Q-Pid released the song “Bus Driver” last year. He sang about the experiences that passengers have while using our public transportation bus system. He summed it up perfectly in his song when he said, “Man don kill me for $1.00, I mean $1.25”.

Are we going to wait for another student to be killed or seriously hurt and then say sorry to a parent?  The bus system is very crucial to the economy of the Bahamas, specifically New Providence and it needs to be fixed immediately. Bahamians deserve to be passengers on busses that are safe, free from loud provocative music and in good condition. Bahamians deserve to go to a bus stop at a predetermined time and have the bus appear on schedule as opposed to waiting for whenever time the bus shows up. This year should not pass without a complete overhaul of our public transport system. It is long overdue.

 Dehavilland Moss

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