Now, imagine the above occurring on a regular basis. Too often that’s the scenario facing Cayman Islands residents who rely on the bus system to get them to and from work in the outer districts. But, instead of mechanical malfunctions or fuel failures, the reason for drivers’ impromptu terminations of bus routes has been, in the words of one local bus rider, “when there aren’t enough passengers or they don’t feel like it, they just don’t go.”
We won’t pass judgment on the actions of individual bus drivers, most of whom perform their demanding duties in a punctual and professional manner, while maintaining a friendly rapport with passengers.
Our concern over the existence of unreliable, inconsiderate or outright lazy bus driving is more fundamental. That is, this kind of behavior is enabled by the way Cayman’s bus system is set up – as one of those ever-dangerous quasi-governmental models that is neither “public” nor “private,” which doesn’t possess the advantages of either, but demonstrates the disadvantages of both.
For example, if Cayman’s bus system were purely “public,” then passengers could report any inadequacies of drivers to their superiors in government, with repercussions to follow. If the bus system were purely “private,” then bus companies would be free to adjust their service according to customer demand, while passengers could exercise their discretion as to which bus company they patronize. (An alternative scenario would be where the government chooses, through a competitive bidding process, a single private contractor to manage and operate the public bus system.)
As it now stands, individual bus drivers apply for permits to drive routes, under the aegis of the Public Transportation Board, amid an atmosphere heavy in regulations but light in enforcement. The result is a bus system that is both inconsistent and unaccountable, and that is not tailored to serve either the bus operators or the passengers.
Much of the above could also be said about Cayman’s network of taxis, which are also licensed by the same Public Transportation Board.
In North America, Europe, Asia and elsewhere, technology has brought about disruptive change to public transit, most notably the conventional model of taxi dispatching. Companies like Uber and Lyft have been able to leverage the Internet and smartphones to construct webs of independent contractors who carry passengers from Point A to Point B at a fraction of the fares charged by traditional taxis. The “secret ingredient” to the success of Uber and Lyft, in our opinion, is not so much their respective “apps,” clever as they are, as it is their avoidance of the often-extortionary regulations and fees with which governments burden taxi companies’ bottom lines.
The lesson here is that there are several models of public transportation available that would, in theory, work better for Cayman than our existing system, at least in terms of getting people to work and back, on time, every time.