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No easy route for commuters

Published:Wednesday | March 24, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Laura Redpath, Senior Staff Reporter

Calls of "juice, juice" and "ba-ba-ba-banana chips" were welcomed by passengers travelling on the Jamaica Urban Transit Company No. 500 bus steadily making its way to the Half-Way Tree (HWT) terminal.

An elderly woman whipped her cellphone out of her purse to make a call.

"Bus fare ah go up," she said into the mouthpiece.

News of the JUTC fare hike, scheduled for April 1, had perturbed many a regular passenger.

"Kiss mi neck," a woman said, hidden by the heads of other passengers, "a suh much money dem ah ask for?"

Too much

Carmen Eccleston sipped on a bag juice and shook her head when she found out about the upcoming fare hike from $50 to $80.

"That's too much," she said. "That is way too much."

Cecile Vaughn agreed and said a $15 increase would have been easier to swallow. She also said that even though the fare was going up, chances were the customer service wouldn't improve.

"Service is very poor. When the (bus service) just started, it was acceptable."

While rattling through the streets of Kingston, a pungent sewage smell wafted in through the open windows, mixing with the already ripe smell of stale body odour.

"Sometimes downtown smells obnoxious," Vaughn said.

The driver's horn blared multiple times as he ploughed his way to the HWT terminal.

"Driva," a passenger screamed, "door nah wuk."

With a loud rattle the door opened, and with a bang it closed.

Not about money

A new smell joined the rest and it was the nauseating emissions becoming more pronounced as the 500 passed the Jamaica Fire Brigade HWT station.

"You doing a survey?" Karen Goldberg asked. "Let mi tell you something, it's not about the money.

"It's about the service. Most times I have to wait one hour for a bus. Sometimes people have to wait two or three hours for the (74 bus)."

Hundreds of people stood at the HWT terminal waiting, and police officers moved in and out of the crowd. A woman glanced scornfully at a bus as it pulled into the terminal, almost touching her.

Despite persons' stories of long waiting periods, four 500 buses arrived at HWT terminal, each 10 minutes apart.

"Me nuh know how people ah go react (to the fare hike). Life hard and cost of living ah go up.

"All like now, me haffi take another bus and that's another $50," said Sharon Campbell, who rides public transit twice a week.