A large bus like this is called a Coaster. In our area, most are a bit smaller- like 14 passenger vans with a raised roof.
A large bus like this is called a Coaster. In our area, most are a bit smaller- like 14 passenger vans with a raised roof.

For more about Jamaican public transportation, see Part One. For more answers to current volunteer poll questions, see To Care Or Go Crazy and Current Volunteers Tell All.


Maximizing Space
Cramming as many people as possible in a bus or taxi is an all-too-common occurrence that we experience almost every day. The record that a volunteer has witnessed in a 5-seatbelt taxi is: 11 adults. Or 2 adults and 16 children. One person to a seat is just not that efficient (or profitable).

Jedd demonstrates the use of a 'cross seat' which uses the aisles more efficiently
Jedd demonstrates the extra efficiency of passengers seated in the aisles. Notice, however, that everyone still has their own seat in this (rare) case.

Nearly every bus has “cross seats” which are removable boards that can be laid across the aisle, between two seats, in order to fit more people in a row. To cram in more people, sometimes a passenger will be asked to sit on the console above the stick shift. I’ve even seen a taxi driver share his seat with a passenger.

Bus and taxi decals indicate the route they are supposed to travel
Bus and taxi decals indicate the route they are supposed to travel

When I asked current volunteers if they’d be willing to pay an extra fee to ensure a seat all to themselves- no more smalling up. (This isn’t actually an option in real life but I thought people might be fed up with tight spaces.) 77% said they wouldn’t do it. In fact, I got a lot of emphatic No’s! I guess volunteers are pretty hard core about cultural norms… or else they’re really budget conscious. One or two mentioned they would make an exception for especially long trips, for times they’re carrying too much luggage, or when they’re sick. Wow, smalling up would not be fun if you were on your way to a doctor’s appointment with a case of dengue fever.


Strange and Unusual
Apart from over-crowding, which is the source of much humor- and a little discomfort- in our lives, I wanted to know what other crazy things current volunteers have witnessed on public transportation. It should be noted that most of these occur rarely (except maybe the singing). Actually, a couple of volunteers literally couldn’t think of anything strange they had witnessed on public transit. Perhaps we’re just adjusted to a new normal.

Here are the unusual things others have seen in their buses and taxis:

  • IMG_3163Animals. Livestock. A goat. A puppy in a shoebox. A large flat of chirping baby chicks. Being asked to hold a box with someone else’s cat inside. A pile of fish for market. (While it’s my understanding that livestock is technically not tolerated on public as much as it is in other developing countries, it does happen on occasion.)
  • Singing. A guy belting out Whitney Houston in falsetto. Driva and all the riders singing along to a CD. “I love it when everyone on a bus starts singing along loudly to the gospel music on the radio.”
  • Uncomfortable situations. Being asked to take some guy’s virginity. A woman ranting and flailing a knife. Someone screaming in tongues and acting possessed. “A madman/preacher who preached and sang like an hour-long sermon at the top of his lungs that made no sense while some shouted ‘amen!’ but most yelled for him to get his drunk self off di bus and they knew they’d see him at the local pub with the collection plate earnings.”
  • Spatial ingenuity. “The door refusing to open and 10 people attempting to exit through small windows.” Or a bus so crowded at the door that a lady had to be picked up, passed through the window, and seated on a stranger’s lap.
  • A farmer going to work with a machete (one of those things that’s no longer strange to us but once was).
  • A woman peeling ackee (ackee is a Jamaican fruit that must be prepared correctly or it can make you sick).
  • Breast feeding.
  • Another whitey (translation: white person).

Side note: Our fellow volunteer, Adri, just published a blog post while waiting in the Kingston bus park for a ride back across the island. Check out her photos and awesome description of the bus park here.


  • This road sign went up recently, although it is curiously misleading. The park is several miles away and there is no turn-off leading to it anywhere nearby.
    Speaking of strange and unusual, this one is happening out on the road. This road sign went up recently, although it is curiously misleading. The park is several miles away and there is no turn-off leading to it anywhere nearby. Volunteers in a neighboring parish also reported seeing two other similar examples of signs indicating an attraction 0.5 km away when the destination can actually be found many miles farther on. Wish I could explain this one…

     

-M

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