There can be no denying the importance of a public transportation system. Despite the hundreds of new vehicles that annually jam our roadways, the majority of Saint Lucians simply cannot afford their own transportation. While the availability and regularity of transit buses leave much to be desired, the problem is made worse by the people behind the wheel and in whose hands commuters entrust their lives. Too often drivers and their passengers engage in quarrels over recorded songs with questionable lyrics played at deafening volume. Then there’s the matter of bus drivers carrying on like car racers. It is also a trend for these bus drivers to form “a block” wherever they “peg.” Since the completion of repairs to the sinkhole in Rodney Bay a year ago, route 1A bus drivers have been pegging in front of the JQ Mall, bringing with them all their old habits from Castries.
They park on the left side of the road as far down as the Mardini Building, home of CIBC. Or they park at Reduit Orchard, often to take a nap or to wash down their vehicles or to engage in a game of drafts before hitting the road again. Over the last several weeks’ residents of Reduit Orchard have been complaining of drivers racing around their housing community, swearing loudly at one another, oblivious of children in the vicinity. Some homeowners have complained about litter tossed out of the bus windows, about drivers urinating on their wall fences, or parking in spots that make it difficult for resident car owners to maneuver their vehicles. One particular irate Reduit Orchard resident told me: “I do not like these drivers here one shit. I know they need to make a living and that one or two are quite polite but this used to be a quiet community. Just last week the police had to intervene when drivers chose to celebrate a birthday party here. The noise was unbearable. What is most disturbing is to see bus drivers consuming gallons of alcohol, especially on a Friday, then getting into their vehicles to transport people around, including school children.” I spoke with one driver who claimed there was not enough business available in Gros Islet. He said a station in Rodney Bay would discourage drivers picking up passengers on their way to Castries. It would also decrease the flow of pedestrians crossing the Gros Islet highway to hail buses on their way to the city. “It’s not easy getting used to the new arrangement,” another disgruntled Reduit Park resident told me. “The drivers come in here and park in front my house. It’s true I don’t have a vehicle but I work from my home. People come to me all the time, some in their own cars. All I ask is that the authorities reserve parking space for my clients and stop these men from urinating all over my fence. We all have to make a living but what they do shouldn’t affect my business.”
According the Saint Lucia Transport Board there are 178 registered buses daily plying the Castries-Gros Islet route. On average drivers make $250 a day. The 1A route is one of the most traveled on the island, yet the bus terminal in Castries leaves a lot to be desired. Besides the many acrid odors near the wall of the Anglican Primary School and all the way down to what used to be called “the gardens.” Commuters complain drivers are often unkempt and reeking of alcohol and sweat. Some can be seen drinking, gambling or playing dominoes with fellow drivers near the CDC Buildings, while awaiting passengers. For decades commuters and drivers alike have pleaded with successive administrations to construct a less depressing bus terminal, to no avail. Attempts on the part of this reporter to get an official comment on the situation proved useless.