The wheels on the bus go round and round … but not all around

It’s happened to many of us at some point in our lives: You wake up at the crack of dawn, get dressed and rush out the door to the car. Halfway to work, a warning light on the dashboard flickers on, the car begins to shake, and then … you’re stranded, on the side of the road – forced to hitchhike or walk the rest of the way, then explain to your boss why you’re late, angry and perspiring.

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.

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  1. I think that this is the opportunity for someone to make a good public transportation system , now that we understand what the problems are. This would mean that one must take control from the top.

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  2. Uber would be great here. Although one could only imagine how quickly the Uber drivers’ tyres would be slashed by the local taxi drivers in order to keep charging extortionate rates.

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  3. Ironically, today’s classifieds contain a public service ad to fill space in which the Cayman Compass asks, "Instead of driving your car, why not use alternative transportation and do your bit for the environment? Walk, ride a bike, or catch public transport."

    Given today’s editorial and yesterday’s headline article it seems the question is both asked and answered. If it is too far to walk or ride a bike, what is a person to do if the public transport system is unreliable? An unreliable public transport system enshrines the car culture to the long term detriment of the environment.

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  4. There is a very simple (and quite cheap) solution;-

    GPS trackers

    These can be fitted to a vehicle and track its location and speed. They can have alarms if the bus breaks down or is stationary for more than 10 minutes, and could show if a driver was deviating from his route, also speeding! The driver can also alarm if there are problems requiring emergency services.

    My thoughts are that public transport needs to be a Monorail
    Above and not hampered by traffic, No dangers to pedestrians or cyclists, above flooded roads, FAST and very good for sightseeing tourists.
    Airport to hotel, DONE. East End Cruise Dock to Georgetown in under 10 mins! Open the WHOLE island to tourism not just GT.

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