* Michelle Thoughts, * Peace Corps

On the Road: Jamaican Public Transit (Part One)

First bench of a bus: two adults smalling up with six kids

I don’t know why we haven’t really addressed Jamaican public transportation on our blog until now. It plays a major part of our daily lives and can be quite fascinating for those who are new to it. There’s a lot of fun stuff to cover when it comes to our route taxi and bus system, so we’ll break it up into two parts.

Who’s Who on Jamaican Public Transit
Driva- Obviously every bus or taxi has a driver. They may own their own vehicle or rent/share it. Registered drivers have red license plates and official ID cards.

Ducta- Many buses will also have a Ducta, which comes from the term “conductor.” This person’s main job is to collect fare from the passengers so the driver can focus on the road. He also helps the driver spot potential passengers on the side of the road. A good Ducta can hold a lot of information in his head at once- where each person loaded the bus, the corresponding fares depending on the distance traveled, and how much change is owed to each person. A really good Ducta will also remember where many of the passengers live and strategically arrange the passengers’ seating so that the first people to come off the bus are sitting closest to the door. Most Ductas in our area know where we live so we don’t even have to ask for a stop anymore.

Loada man- Not all taxis or buses go through the official bus park in town, but those that do will sometimes team up with a Loada Man. His job is to round up passengers and put them on a bus going to their desired destination. These guys get tipped by the Drivas for helping them fill up quickly, which is why they can sometimes get pushy and competitive when there are multiple buses going to the same destination.

 Would you rather…
On the theme of transportation, I surveyed current volunteers (via text poll again) about their transportation experiences. When asked if they would prefer to be a Ducta or a Driva, the majority (63%) said they would be a Driva. Most sited the complexity of the Ducta’s job, which to some was overwhelming and to others was what would keep things interesting. Some of my favorite comments were:

  • Driva. I hate dealing with money and I love being in charge of the music.
  • Ducta. Simply for the thrill of hanging half out of a bus shouting, “Ochi Bay!”
  • Driva. Comfort, choice of music, get to sit next to pretty girls.
  • Driva. Cuz you don’t have to deal with as much BS!
  • Ducta. Socially acceptable yelling harassment at Jamaican men?!! Ducta for sure. [Referring to the ability to turn the tables on always being at the receiving end of unwanted attention]

I also asked Volunteers about the unusual things they’ve seen in a public bus or taxi, which got some great responses. You can hear about them in the next post…

Five Favorite Phrases On Jamaican Public Transit

  • Small up – this refers to the act of “making yourself smaller” so that more people can fit in the bus or taxi.

    the south coast "highway"
    the south coast “highway”
  • Rack up. Rack up yuhself. – just like smalling up, you may be directed to slide to the end of the bench, push together or sit on someone’s lap to make space for more people.
  • One staap. (a stop) – even though there aren’t really any official bus stops outside of Kingston (and maybe Montego Bay?), you use this phrase to let the driver know you want to get off. You can also say “Gimme a stop.” Or, “Let off.”
  • Tek time, driva. (slow down, driver) – This one is not as common as you would think when you first witness how crazy Jamaican drivers can seem on the road. But most Jamaican drivers, with the rare exception, are not actually reckless at all. In fact, they are probably extra alert because they’re accustomed to dodging pot holes, pedestrians, stray dogs, goats, and overtaking vehicles.
  • Leggo – Maybe the driver didn’t hear you call out that you wanted a stop. The ducta (see description above) may tell the driver to pull over and let one go by using this phrase.

3 thoughts on “On the Road: Jamaican Public Transit (Part One)”

  1. Mahalo for your well written informational piece. It was fun to read and reminisce.

    I have a transportation story to share, that could be part of a comedy movie.
    One very late afternoon after completing an arts/craft workshop for teachers in upper St. Ann, in an area where public transport was scarce, I tried to get a ride to Brown’s Town. Hitchhiking? Forget it. Too far in the bush communities and not enough personal cars. After waiting for a while, one mini-van finally comes rolling around the corner. I wave it down. It stops and then I notice how overcrowded it is. I thought to myself, no mo room. What do I do now? On top of it, the driver was drunk. Very briefly I worried. How was I to get to Brown’s Town to catch transportation to the coast where I lived.? The driver got out and told me to get it. I said, “I mon, No, NO room and you drunk!” He’s says, “Plenty room, mon!” He, all of a sudden, hands me the keys and says, “You drive, I find room!” Do have to say how shocked all of us (passengers/me) were? As I was always ready for adventure in Jamaica, I climbed in, closed the door, started the engine and took charge of the moment. OMG!! Crazy! Having never driven those roads, curves were interesting and voices behind me got a little nervous (to say the least). After awhile, and getting use to it, I played mini-van driver for the first and only time. The bell rings, I pull over, let the passenger out, and carry on, dropping off and picking up people all the way to Brown’s Town. New passengers were in disbelief, and townspeople in Brown’s Town Square were in dumbfounded when I finally rolled in. It was one of those moments that every detail became permanently etched in my brain, ready for instant recall, like now 37/38 years later. After a long day training teachers and ready to be home, I think I outdid Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride that evening.

    1. What a great story! We’ve all had some crazy adventures on transportation, but no one has become the driver. These days, PC would definitely not tolerate a Volunteer driving on island.

  2. That sounds so similar to my experience with transportation here in Indonesia! We also have the driver, conductor who keeps track of everything, loaders…and I’m sure there are some equally crazy rides. 🙂

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