The sudden end to the free hop-on, hop-off shuttle service for George Town has left riders upset and drivers uncertain about their employment options.
“I feel very bad, very disappointed,” frequent rider Zaila Buchanan told the Cayman Compass Friday after she was told that the service was ending that afternoon.
The PACT Government, in a brief statement Thursday, announced its decision to pull the plug on the the pilot programme, which was launched last year by former Infrastructure Minister Joey Hew in an effort to reduce the number of cars heading into the capital.
The bus operated on two different routes, each making 13 stops at popular locations around George Town, including the Cayman Islands Hospital, Foster’s supermarket and the Immigration building. A mobile app was also developed for the service.
No specific reason was given for the sudden closure, with no indication if a revamped version would be introduced, leaving riders like Buchanan concerned.
Hew, who took the final shuttle ride around George Town, said he was disappointed with the closure, especially since the service was starting to gain traction with riders – peaking at 1,000 per week.
“I can appreciate they had their reasons for making [the decision]. What I’m concerned about is that they have not indicated whether or not they’re going to take the information that they’ve gathered and put in long-term shuttle service around town,” he said, adding the idea was that government would continue to develop the service to include parking garages on the outskirts of town.
He said the service was more than a traffic congestion tool. It was also a measure to help reduce Cayman’s carbon footprint.
“This is a question we all have to ask ourselves about reducing our carbon footprint and increasing the quality of life of our people,” Hew said.
“Can you actually put a profitable cost to it? Can you say that this is feasible or not feasible? If we were to simply look at the value for money on reducing our carbon footprint and improving the lives of people, we wouldn’t offer half of the services we offer and we would never, ever reduce our carbon footprint.”
Users lament closure
Buchanan, a Crewe Road resident, said she has used the shuttle since its introduction last year and wished that government would reconsider its decision to end the service.
“I use it most times when I am going to Foster’s. It is very convenient for me,” she said.
Buchanan said she will have to take the public bus to get around George Town.
Thilini Tennakoon, who hopped on the shuttle at the Government Administration Building, was unaware her Friday ride would be her last.
Tennakoon said the service had been useful, and it was helpful during the day when the weather is hot.
“It’s very convenient. You can get in and get [off] wherever you want,” she added, saying the drivers provided good service.
The programme was also a means to give some out-of-work tour operators like Ronald DeCastro the opportunity to earn some cash while Cayman’s borders are closed to tourists.
Now he is unsure what is going to happen for him and his employer.
He and the other drivers were expecting that the service may continue with the change in government, he said, adding that most of the riders on the free bus were seniors.
“I feel sad,” he said, noting the friends he has made driving the shuttle. “… [O]nce they [are] in the bus, sometimes I help them, especially when they get bags of groceries.”
DeCastro said his most frequent stops are Foster’s supermarket and Cayman Islands Hospital.
He said he would transport an average of 40 to 50 people around George Town every day.
Hew pointed out that places like Cricket Square and Camana Bay have now introduced shuttles, speaking to the value of the service and its impact.
He added that it was part of the George Town revitalisation plan, as parking remains an issue.
“We were unable to move our courts out of George Town, government services have remained in George Town. We thought that was important for George Town revitalisation, but parking is an issue and so this gave people the ability to park outside of town and take the bus,” Hew said.
He said when the Alden McLaughlin-led government started the pilot programme, they did not set an end date for the project, as it formed part of a wider plan for the revitalization project.