The mini-bus culture

Stabroek News
March 11, 2000

What else is there to say about speeding mini-buses that has not already been said many times over by the Traffic Chief, ordinary citizens and commentators alike? Each time there is a horrendous accident, such as the one which occurred earlier this week, the analysis is regurgitated again, and the relevant authorities make public commitments about the `strong' action which will be taken in order to reduce the grim statistics relating to our roads. For a brief spell thereafter, the men in blue swarm onto the streets to check the documentation of passing mini-buses. And then as the sense of crisis passes, everything settles back into its accustomed routine. Until the next time.

There is no point in lecturing the mini-bus drivers about the dangers of speeding, the irresponsibility of overloading, the offensive nature of some dub lyrics played in their vehicles, or whatever; there is no appealing to their sense of rationality. They are part of a mini-bus culture which has been allowed to evolve unhindered by the powers-that-be. It is an essentially macho culture, which is characterized by speeding, aggressive driving, weaving in and out of traffic in order to position one's bus to advantage, loud, sometimes vulgar music, noisy speech patterns, crude touts on some routes, the stowing of human beings like so much cargo - 'Gi' she a squeeze there nuh?' - competition with one's fellow drivers, and contempt for all other road users who are not part of the cult. The slow periods aside when there are few passengers around, it is a fast-paced life, and its atmosphere of excitement and masculinity has led not a few silly teenage schoolgirls astray.

The mini-bus culture is not about rules, regulations and safety on the roads, which does not mean to say that every mini-bus driver is part of the culture. There are many responsible drivers in charge of our buses, who operate with conductors who are civil and considerate; the reality is, however, that theirs is not the ethos which predominates. Needless to say, women are nowhere in evidence behind the wheel on the mini-buses, although there are some female conductors. It is probably safe to predict that if the majority of drivers were women, then the accident rate would drop accordingly. While the male of the species in this country evinces a great contempt for women drivers, the insurance companies could no doubt confirm that they are more cautious, less prone to speeding, more inclined to follow the rules and less likely to be involved in accidents than men.

So what is to be done about the problem of speeding, overloaded mini-buses? Ideally, of course, the passengers should insist on reasonable speeds, no overloading and quiet music; however, that is rarely easy to achieve with the members of an amorphous group who have been briefly thrown together for a bus journey, and it becomes even more difficult if some of the passengers think like the driver and conductor. In general, many commuters are intimidated from expressing their views, and it may not always be an option for them to stop the bus and disembark. Most will take the easy way out and hold their peace, while praying that they arrive at their destination alive, uninjured and with their sense of hearing intact.

Ultimately, the solutions lie with the police and the systematic application of the laws. The force is, of course, severely under strength, and judging by the number of traffic violations which go unchallenged every day, many of the current crop of officers do not seem as well acquainted with the traffic code as they should be. The temporary campaigns which appear to be the mainstay of the police are really not answers in the long term; we need a permanent campaign.

There is another problem, and that is quite simply the alleged corruption among officers who are genuinely underpaid, and who see the mini-buses as the source of a quick 'raise.' The Commissioner of Police has challenged anyone casting aspersions on his force to come forward with any instances of corruption which they know about, but not surprisingly, no one seems to have done so. Until he confronts the possibility that corruption could be undermining his attempts to enforce the laws, and until he works out strategies to establish first, to what extent this is so, and if it is pervasive, what to do about it, then little further progress in dealing with the mini-bus culture will be made.