EDITORIAL: Let’s fix bus woes
Residents of rural Barbados deserve better.
We recognise that the state-owned Transport Board has a number of challenges, many of them not of its own making, that negatively impact on its ability to meet commuter expectations, but that does not make suffering Barbadians feel any better.
When commuters living in St Joseph, for example, complain that they arrive in the terminal in the City at 3:30 p.m. or 4 p.m. and don’t get home until after 9 p.m. one can’t help but feel their pain.
After all, a car ride from Bridgetown to the farthest part of St Joseph should take no more than 30 minutes, while the bus ride during peak periods could take as much as an hour.
We do not wish to trivialise the matter, but had one of those St Joseph-bound passengers instead arrived at the Grantley Adams International Airport headed to Jamaica, she would have been able to cover the mandatory one-hour requirement for check-in ahead of departure and still make it to Kingston long before fellow parishoners got home.
When we give further consideration to this matter it is not hard to see the amount of productive hours we waste each day in this country because of an inadequate bus service.
We can do better and we must.
In fairness to the Transport Board, we have to admit that its management has been rewriting and juggling schedules, posting information online and otherwise communicating with commuters to try to make the best of a difficult situation.
But clearly the answer does not rest solely with the state corporation. It is time for those who make the policy to take some firm decisions, even in the face of the Government’s cash flow problems.
Nationally we need to determine if the time has come for an increase in bus fares, if we need to privatise the agency in part or whole, if we need to invest in more buses but of a smaller variety or fewer but with a larger carrying capacity, if to invest in another form of public transport like light rails or trams in the relatively flat southern, central, western and northern section of the island and reserve buses for the hilly eastern segment.
We are reasonably sure most commuters would prefer, if it came to it, a system that offers fewer rides per day but in an environment where the service is delivered in accordance with the published scheduled.
If buses were guaranteed to run every two hours, for example, and commuters could count on the board sticking to the schedule we would hardly have commuters standing unnecessarily for two or three hours hoping the bus would come.
Barbadians would be able to use their time productively rather than sitting or standing in annoyance at a bus stop or terminal for hours.
In a country that’s just 21 miles long one should not have to leave home before 6 a.m. and get back home after 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. when the actual journey takes no more than an hour in either direction and the hours spent on the job are no more than the standard.
This situation has been part of the national debate for too many years, and while the current financial circumstances have worsened things, it did not begin there. We have been avoiding taking sensible, badly needed strategic decisions in relation to public transport for too long.
Are we waiting for the whole system to collapse in order to do what we know must be done?