The Jamaican Minibus experience
Updated: Nov 8, 2019
Travelling by the minibus in Jamaica is not for the timid but it is surprsingly efficient at getting people around relatively quickly. Here's how it works: Buses are usually owned by an investor who has a license to travel along approved routes. This investor sets up an arrangement with a driver and conductor to bring in a minimum amount of money to the driver every week. The driver and conductor get a small salary but make extra money from the revenue generated that exceeds the investors expected return. So there is a business incentive for them to pack buses and travel fast. Sometimes wreckless, its surprising to not hear of more accidents. Buses and conductors compete for passengers at stops along with "loader men" who basically sell seats for the bus on the spot for a commission, so the whole scene at the bus stop or station looks very chaotic but there is reason in the madness. The bus at the head of the line in a bus depot will usually have the most people and be ready to go first. There is no bus schedule, buses leave when they are full. But they fill pretty quickly so it usually takes no more than 30 minutes to depart from a bus station. If you are carrying luggage the bus may have a luggage compartment for 33 seater Toyota Coaster buses (common from the Half Way Tree to Port Antonio bus ride), if they cant accommodate it there and it does not all fit on your lap you may have to buy another seat. Half Way Tree (Kingston) to Port Antonio costs about the equivalent of US$3 a seat (local rides usually cost about US$1.
Apart from the affordability the experience of riding in a minibus is very revealing about ordinary Jamaican life. Seeing how people go about their business and hustle to make a living with this constant musical vibe is amazing. There is rhythm on the streets, music is the lifeblood of the street vibe which is everywhere that ordinary Jamaicans gather. The buses themselves are often decked with sound systems which blare unapologetically as buses drag race to their next stop. Some even show DVD/Movies. There has been alot of clamping down on standards with minbuses over the last few years so the buses have become much more modest. Proud owners would often and still do to an extent "pimp their rides", buses with spoilers and racing kit molding used to be quite common.
Safety from criminals in minibuses has improved significantly over the last few years with drastically fewer report of bus robberies so it would not be a top concern. The top concern for safety should be pick pockets and the driving of the bus driver. They (bus drivers) get away with what appears to be wrecklessness more than you think but it can be still be nerve wracking. If you travelling along the countryside have motion sickness, carry a bag because a really curvy drive is a ahead often through tight winding mountain roads.
In the bus itself ther is constant interaction and there always bound to be a couple jokers setting off laughter among passengers. Jamaican Patois is the language you will hear 90% of the time and is not easy to understand for new people but after a while you will be able to pick up some phrases.
The Jamaican minibus experience is surprisingly consistent and has been for years. A pair of English women captured their whole experience in the 1980s to a dancehall track that won the hearts of Jamaicans with it's humorous and honest tone and became a big hit. Today many travellers can still relate: Check it out:
The trip filmed in this video was actually Ocho Rios to Kingston.
For more info about Jamaican life contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or inbox us on the FB page. Bless