A tale of two territories: How Bermuda deals with traffic

One of Bermuda's famous pink buses leaves the town of St. George en route to the capital, Hamilton.

In St. George’s parish, a pink bus rumbles across a low causeway to the mainland.
To the west, a commuter ferry cruises across the Great Sound.

Many Bermuda residents use mopeds or motorbikes to get around. – Photo: Royal Gazette

Along South Shore, tourists in two-seat mini-cars take a gentle drive along a curving stretch of coastal road.

Around the capital, Hamilton, office workers navigate narrow streets on mopeds, their neckties whipping behind them in the breeze.

There are cars too, of course, but in Bermuda alternative transport options are plentiful.
With a population of approximately 65,000, limited land mass and an economy based on tourism and financial services, the island territory shares many similarities with Grand Cayman.

As policymakers seek to find solutions to growing congestion on the roads, they could do worse than looking 1,300 miles to the north.

One-car limit

With 22 square miles to work with, building six-lane highways was not an option for Bermuda, says Transport Minister Zane DeSilva.

“We didn’t have a choice. We just don’t have the land mass,” he told the Cayman Compass.

“The majority of our public roads are on private property and government is not in a position to purchase land and invest in widening streets.”

Instead of building roads, Bermuda’s government chose to restrict vehicles.

The 1951 Motor Car Act limits the island’s residents to one car per household.

Such a policy is almost unimaginable in Cayman, where two- and even three-car families are the norm. But in Bermuda it seems to cause few concerns.

“I can’t remember hearing anyone complain about it in 21 years living here,” says Jonathan Kent, business editor at the Royal Gazette newspaper.

“Most folks are happy using mopeds and motorbikes.”

The statistics bear that out. According to a 2019 transport discussion paper compiled by the Bermuda government there are almost 49,000 vehicles on the road in the island – more than the 42,728 recorded in Cayman last year.

However, just under half of those are motorbikes or mopeds.

A survey of how people travel to work showed that around 50% travel by car, one in five use public transport and the rest are largely on two wheels.

Kent believes people in Bermuda would actually be upset if the policy was changed to allow for wider car ownership.

Business consultant and former Bermuda Chamber of Commerce president Peter Everson agrees.

“People understand the one car per dwelling rule and generally respect it, ” he said. “Bermudians all start out by riding bikes and so it is a part of the culture to ride one later in life.”

The policy is not foolproof, however. Complaints logged with Bermuda’s Consumer Affairs department suggest some residents build additional apartments onto their homes in order to get a separate building assessment number and become eligible for another vehicle.

Bermuda’s fast ferries are popular with tourists but under-utilised by commuters. – Photo: Royal Gazette

Rush hour in Bermuda

Despite the level of bike traffic and bus and ferry options, Bermuda does have a ‘rush hour’, though nothing that compares to what we see in Cayman.

Two-lane roads are the norm in Bermuda, so even with fewer than 23,000 cars on the island, key routes can get clogged at peak times.

The transportation policy paper raises congestion among a series of issues and includes familiar suggestions, such as encouraging carpooling and park-and-ride schemes, among others.

It is an issue, says Everson, but not a particularly vexing one compared with some of the other headaches, such as maintenance and reliability issues with the public buses.

Cost implications

It is evident that running an effective public transportation system, such as Bermuda has, is not without problems or expense.

Operational costs alone for the island’s bus and ferry system come in at US$30 million annually. A little more than US$7 million is recouped from user fees, leaving a hefty annual tab of US$22.4 million. That is before capital costs of replacing buses and ferries that are past their sell-by date are considered.

In some areas, lack of investment is beginning to show. An ageing fleet of vehicles means dozens can be off the road at any given time.

“The bus service has had challenges in the last decade,” DeSilva acknowledges.

“We got hit economically and we have had resource challenges but we are now looking at replenishment of the fleet.”

Bermuda currently runs a fleet of 77 licensed buses. But maintenance issues have meant that an average of 21 buses are out of service every day. Upgrades are going to be needed and they are likely to be expensive.

The Bermuda government released a Request For Information last month as it looks to begin replacing its ageing buses with newer electric and energy-efficient vehicles. There are fewer problems with the fast ferry service, which is highly regarded and well used by tourists but under-utilised by commuters, the policy paper indicates.

Bermuda’s public transport system costs $30 million a year to operate. – Photo: Royal Gazette

An example for other islands

While there may be grumbles over quality and reliability, most in Bermuda take the presence of a public transport system for granted.

That’s not the case in other Caribbean territories, where the Cayman-style system of private mini-buses regulated by the government is more common.

When policymakers in the British Virgin Islands, another British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean, wanted to upgrade their public transport system they came to take a look at how it is done in Bermuda.

If Cayman is serious about public transport, then research and proper data is essential says Aideen Ratteray Pryse, permanent secretary in Bermuda’s Ministry of Transport.

“Starting a public transport system from scratch, you will want to make sure all your decisions are data driven – you need to find out where the need is and who is going to use it.

“You don’t want to just invest and then find out you got it wrong.”

Thomas Christopher Famous, an MP and newspaper columnist who has travelled widely in the Caribbean, including to Cayman, believes island territories should work more closely together to find mutual solutions to similar problems.

“I would definitely encourage Cayman’s leaders to come here and take a look at what we have,” he said.

“As Overseas Territories, we have a lot in common and we can help each other out. We don’t always need to be looking to the US or Canada to find an expert that doesn’t have island experience.”

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7 COMMENTS

  1. The 1951 Motor Car Act limits the island’s residents to one car per household.
    The key point is: 1951!
    Back in 1951 Bermuda had a VISION to restrict number of cars BEFORE it became a problem. In 1951 few motor cars in were in Bermuda, so enforcing the Act was easy. The horse was not out of the barn yet, metaphorically speaking.
    It would have been a different story today, if for example 30,000 cars were already on island.

    As for Bermuda public buses, they are excellent. When I lived in Bermuda, I walked to and from work (20 min.) and took a bus to go to beaches and trips around the island. Riding a scooter in Bermuda is very dangerous, so I opted out of such option. My housemate, a Bermudian born and raised woman, would give me rides on her scooter- she had decades of experience, still I was scared each time.

  2. I am not sure that following Bermuda is a good idea. $22 mil loss for the bus service??? Also, bad policies (such as car limits and other “must do” rules) have really hurt their economy over the last decade. They now have about 37,000 employees, only 2,000 employees more than in 2012. Cayman has added 10,000 employees for the same period. And they still have traffic problems, on top of the huge losses from the bus service and high unemployment.

    I am not sure what the solution is, but car quotas don’t work. Everyone loses. It is somewhat better to increase the registration fees on 2nd vehicles and use the funds to create a better public bus system. Also building homes where people work (Georgetown) helps. Georgetown revitalization?

  3. Many in the Cayman islands advocate to replace cars with scooters ( referencing Bermuda as an example) having no slightest idea that riding a scooter is not for faint – hearted.
    Having lived in Bermuda and seeing first hand how scooters behave on the roads they share with buses and cars, I’d tell you-it is a nightmare.
    While a car or a bus can occupy only one lane, scooters on the other hand can be everywhere and anywhere, where you least expect it. They obey no law or order, they take every opportunity, every “opening“, no matter how small it is, to overtake buses and cars. If a car stops to allow a pedestrian to cross a road, scooters see it as an opportunity to pass that car completely disregarding a person(s) already walking across the road. When a bus stops to allow its passengers to disembark, scooters see it as opportunity to overtake and think nothing of exiting passengers, for they head directly into their path on both sides of a bus.
    I often compared them to cockroaches who use every gap, no matter how small, to squeeze themselves in, disregarding safety and lives of others.
    If one grew up in Bermuda and managed to live to at least 30, he is experienced scooter rider. Now imagine a tourist or an expat with very little or no experience but lots of false confidence getting on a scooter.
    Road accidents statistics in Bermuda are terrifying.
    “More than 1,300 road crash victims needed emergency treatment after the first nine months of 2018.
    Bermuda Hospitals Board released the following statistics for the year up to September 30:
    • 1,350 victims required the Emergency Department
    • 98 victims were admitted to the Acute Care Wing
    • 17 victims were admitted to the Intensive Care Unit
    • 8 victims 18 or younger were admitted to the hospital
    • 8 victims were discharged to an overseas medical facility, following road traffic accidents
    • 95 road traffic accident victims were tourists”

    This is roughly five people a day.

    So before proposing scooters in Grand Cayman, one should read articles like this one ( and visit Bermuda getting around on a scooter):
    “There is no question that the death and injury on Bermuda’s roads have reached epidemic proportions.” http://mobile.royalgazette.com/drive-for-change/article/20180129/bermuda-really-is-another-world-stats&template=mobileart

  4. In the mid-1960’s a husband and wife used to visit Grand Cayman every year on vacation. The wife was originally from Bermuda, and one year brought a full set of Bermuda’s vehicle ownership laws with her to the Cayman Islands.
    They met with the Chief Secretary and gave him the Bermuda legislation, with the suggestion that it may be beneficial for the government to consider implementing similar laws here.
    Unfortunately, on their return the following year, they discovered that the Bermuda legislation could not be found. As the article above mentions, and as I have stated publicly, these islands apparently actively dislike long-range planning. Had we had any vision, we would not be in the quandary that we now find ourselves in.

  5. It’s a never ending cycle. More people, more cars, so bigger roads, which then allow for more cars again. Somewhere it has to end. The island is too small for this kind of congestion. Tourists are not amused. Residents aren’t either but everyone wants to drive to work and own two cars. Then there is the issue of getting rid of them when they die.