If you’ve ever had to take public transit in Jamaica, you’ll know it is quite a chore. Not to mention if you hop on to a bus provided by the Jamaica Urban Transit Corporation (JUTC).
Unlike in other cities in this side of the world, where public transportation systems are continually improved and outfitted with the latest technology and little comforts that encourage increased ridership, the JUTC seems to encourage the exact opposite, buy a car and do so fast!
It is acutely more interesting given the lip service the country has in recent times paid to issues such as environmental sustainability (after all everyone is concerned about climate change) yet one of the ways we can immediately reduce our collective carbon footprint is through limiting the flow of private cars. Nonetheless, if you happen to have to take the bus, here are some things you probably should know:
State of the art bus station but missing schedules
We’ve got a very sexy bus station, smack in the middle of Halfway Tree. It looks state of the art but that’s where the state of the art ends. Don’t bother asking what time the bus is scheduled to arrive or the regularity with which it runs, such details elude the most senior of supervisors and the most experienced riders. Are there posted schedules? There could be, somewhere on the website last updated close to a year ago. Is there an app? There was talk of one but it never came to fruition. Just join the lines, at least the riders are disciplined enough to make those ahead of the bus’ arrival on its non-existent schedules.
Customer service is only there to collect fares
The state of the art bus center has a few customer service kiosks but dare not visit them unless you intend to ask about the fares. Outside of the well publicized fare table structure which is 100 JMD to go anywhere in the city, or to load a company Smarter Card with cash, you are wasting your time. Characteristically unkind for very known reasons you are best to avoid the customer service representatives. If you want to know a bus route or any other details, it is best to just ask a frequent rider or the driver, they are usually kind.
Advertised free wifi unavailable
It’s not the you know what Express. You’ll see stickers abound advertising free wifi, one of the proposed perks of taking the bus, and a great initiative in theory but if any rider has ever logged on, well no one really knows. The long and short of the story is you’ll need data.
The community beggar, preacher and the unwanted choir
If you were not a fan of Sunday school stay off the JUTC. Most buses are obliterated with Christian literature, various Psalms stuck to the windows throughout the body of the bus. And if that’s not enough as soon as the bus moves off there will be a full church session complete with a community preacher, an unknown beggar who passes a hat or cup and a choir in the form of a lone man or woman singing a well known hymn. Yes, people put money in the cup in the hopes of getting them to settle down. But no sooner is that done that the resident entrepreneur makes an appeal for support of some near diabetic item and the circus continues.
Can’t stand the heat? It is a standing in heat kind of a experience
Not a believer in climate change? The JUTC is the best way to become a believer. With the exception of a few buses, chances are you will only find reprieve from the Jamaican sun by the occasional passing breeze created when the bus gets going. What AC? While most buses have an air conditioning unit, they’re not working. Because buses are the most affordable way of getting around, they’ll likely be overloaded,and you are likely to stand- so be prepared to stand in the heat.