Mel Cooke, Sunday Gleaner Writer
Early last year, I took a trip along Red Hills Road in three different modes of public transportation. Automotives revisits those journeys along one of Kingston's most notorious routes.
- Route taxi terror
Automotives is at the bus stop outside St Richard's Primary School on Red Hills Road, St Andrew, for all of five seconds before the beckoning beep of a horn heralds the availability of a route taxi heading towards Half-Way Tree. That ubiquitous white Corolla is allowed to go, a green Camry the ride of choice about 20 seconds after at 4:44 p.m.
With the traffic building up going in the other direction, the taxi sticks to the designated route, but the quality of the ride is rated three 'Fs' - fast, furious and frightening. Make that four 'Fs'.
The driver brakes very late and very hard. He likes to almost play bumper cars with the vehicle he is currently adding to his been-there-passed-that list, swinging at the last minute to avoid collision.
The car's speedometer is not working, but Red Hills Road landmarks Lee's Food Fair and Calabar High School flit by the window with a blur which indicates that the speed limit - highway one, that is - is no shackle to the driver. On the car stereo, a deejay is chanting "When we touch the road/we touch it hard", but Automotives gets the distinct impression that the driver touches the road to the same degree, regardless of the soundtrack.
Turning on to Constant Spring Road brings out the real beast in the driver - he stops so near to a Corolla's bumper that, from the back seat, the two cars appear fused in a unique Toyota hybrid. A brown BMW dares to try changing into the route taxi's lane, the driver blares his horn, swings around the car and shoots past the malls on the lower part of Constant Spring Road, pulling into the Total gas station which is literally overrun by route taxis.
Automotives hands over a 'bills', the driver returns a $20 coin, his facial scar smiling. The journey has taken six minutes.
- Stable JUTC ride
Automotives waits at the bus stop opposite the Salvation Army School on Mannings Hill Road, St Andrew, for eight minutes before a yellow JUTC bus pulls up and entry to its cool interior is offered with the hiss of an automatic door's opening.
A few route taxis had passed in the waiting time, but all four persons at the stop had declined the invitation of short horn beeps.
Although the fare is the same as the route taxis - $80 - the differences are striking. And it is not only the relative sizes of the vehicles, although that matters. It is also the cool of air-conditioning, the gospel music and the general sense of order.
As the bus pulls into traffic, the difference in driving style is also striking. The driver serves up a steady ride, negotiating the light traffic and even the sharp turn on to Whitehall Avenue smoothly. He does not rely on his horn - yet - and the only sounds attributable to him are the clatter of the ticket machine and the rattle of coins.
Whitehall Avenue is not the easiest road for a large bus to navigate but, rocking gently, the job is done to a gospel artiste pleading, "Please forgive me/I need your grace to make it through".
Below Swallowfield Primary and Junior High, three small boys in khaki uniforms enter the bus, but one turns back, standing on the sidewalk. There is a brief discussion and it is discovered that he bought bag juice and was unable to pay his fare.
"Mi have $20 coulda pay fe him. Inna dem time ya yu cyaan tek pickney offa bus," one woman says.
The driver generates significant speed down the lower part of Whitehall Avenue and, on Red Hills Road, pauses in between official stops for a woman who comes across the road to board the bus. Red Hills Road passes by without fanfare, and on Constant Spring Road, the driver hurtles towards Half-Way Tree, a cyclist in a number-three shirt having to put some pep into his pedaling to get out of the yellow behemoth's way.
And the bus driver holds no brief for a taxi driver who thinks about coming into his lane, holding horn and course, pulling into the Half-Way Tree Transport Centre at 5:50 p.m.
Early last year, I took a trip along Red Hills Road in three different modes of public transportation. Automotives revisits those journeys along one of St Andrew's most notorious routes.