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Public transport problems

ViewpointIn a small place like Cayman, specifically Grand Cayman, you would probably expect that there would be a relatively robust public transportation system. Given that the island is roughly made up of just 100 square miles, and approximately 24 miles long from end to end, it should be easy. Right?

Apparently not. Public transport in Cayman – although admittedly a vast improvement over what existed 10 to 15 years ago, is pretty haphazard. Especially when compared to another British Overseas Territory and offshore financial centre – Bermuda.

In Cayman, bus routes are not widely published; the routes are served on a somewhat loose schedule; public transport vehicles are invariably mini-buses driven my private individuals; bus shelters are widely spaced; and although buses are supposed to run every 15 minutes on the busier routes, you can often find yourself with a very long wait indeed.

It is for these reasons that many residents do not find public transport to be an efficient means of getting around.

In contrast, public transport in Bermuda is like a well-oiled machine. Most of us are familiar with Bermuda’s stringent rules on vehicle ownerships and car rentals. Bermudian families may only have one car per household, and due to the territory’s labyrinthine roads, certain car makes and models are not permitted. Additionally, visitors to the island cannot hire rental cars. Instead, they must either rent scooters (mopeds), take taxis or use public transportation. The same goes for Bermuda residents if they do not own a car or a scooter.

However, the system there is so robust that even those residents who do own cars often choose to use public transport. The schedule is strictly adhered to, the bus routes are widely publicised and available, the fares are low, and instead of crammed mini-buses, the system relies on proper public transit buses or coaches that you would expect to find in major metropolitan areas in the USA, Canada and UK.

The only issue that tends to plague Bermuda’s public transportation system is that of labour strikes, as there is a bus driver union in that territory.

Otherwise, the system runs smoothly and is a benefit to both residents and visitors to those shores. Bermuda is more densely populated than Cayman, and the rules on vehicle ownership were put in place to prevent traffic gridlock. However, there are other benefits as well – such as reduced vehicle emissions and increased road safety.

In Cayman, where we are becoming plagued by traffic woes – especially coming from the Eastern districts into George Town during morning rush hour commute and vice versa in the evenings, an improved and better regulated public transport system could provide several benefits.

First, it would lessen traffic congestion and also ease the parking woes in central George Town during week days if more workers in the capital could easily commute by bus. Secondly, it would cut down on fuel emissions and also reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. In other words, it could help Cayman to become a slightly “greener” place.

It would also provide a cost-effective option for the many low wage earners living and working in Cayman on work permits, as well as residents who for whatever reason cannot afford to purchase a car.  Being without transport most often affects the young and elderly in the Caymanian population, both vulnerable groups. The first is fighting high unemployment in their age group, and the second are often on limited fixed incomes. Some of our elderly may also have health problems that prevent them from driving, leaving them to rely on family members and neighbours for rides.

Effective and reliable transport is vital for the local workforce. Without it, employees may be late for work or miss their shifts – sometimes resulting in job loss or pay being docked.

Cayman is an expensive jurisdiction to live in, and any public service that would alleviate some of the burden would be welcome, which is why we encourage our public sector to look at ways to improve our public transport system.

Having a better regulated system would also improve safety. There have been many times that local drivers on Grand Cayman roads have seen mini-bus drivers speeding and driving dangerously in order to do as many routes as possible so they can make as much money as possible.

It would seem to make sense to have trained and supervised bus drivers, driving well maintained and safe vehicles, charging fares that go into government coffers rather than into their pockets. It would require that they maintain service standards as well.

While some may complain that this would increase the size of the civil service if bus drivers were on the public payroll, if there was a reliable and safe means of public transport in our islands, more residents and visitors would use it – thereby ensuring that money would be coming back in rather than just going out.

It is surely at least food for thought, and at the very least worthy of one of those government business cases that our civil servants have been trained to conduct.


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