Unique Transportation: Buses in Grenada

by Nora Dunn on November 12, 2012

 

Grenada buses

I’m sweating under the hot Caribbean sun as I labour up my street to the main road, a 15 minute stroll from my house (although I could easily manage the distance in less than ten minutes in other climates, there’s no such thing as walking quickly in the heat).

 

As I make the final turn, I can see my destination – the main road, and a bus stop – about 200 metres away. A large blue van pulls up to the distant intersection. The side door opens, somebody steps out and waves to me. I wave back.

 

I’ve just hailed a bus, from a distance longer than ear shot.

 

There is a lady and little girl behind me who are also headed for the bus. Despite the fact that there are other passengers on the bus waiting for us, she does not pick up her pace. So I follow suit and continue my amble towards the bus.

 

The bus, in response, backs down our street to meet us so we don’t have to walk all the way.

 

Getting personal off-route pick-ups is just one of the many things that makes Grenada’s public bus system one of the most unique – and enjoyable – forms of transportation I’ve encountered around the world.

backing down a side road to pick up passengers

 

How it Works

Buses in Grenada are privately-owned vans that seat up to 20 people. It’s a tight fit, with lots of shifting around to let passengers in and out. The owners of the buses – who are usually also the drivers – are accompanied by a conductor who sits beside the sliding side door, often with their head hanging out the window.

 

As they drive, the conductor scouts the roadside for passengers and with a word or snap of the fingers they signal the driver to stop. (Which is why, when you’re driving in Grenada, you need to be ready for vehicles ahead to make sudden stops).

 

Although there are formal bus stops, anybody – whether or not they’re at a stop or even on the main road – stands a chance of getting the bus to stop for them.

 

Why are buses so flexible to picking up passengers?

Because the more fares they can squeeze into the bus, the more money they’ll make. And since they only get a limited number of daily runs on the route (they can’t just go whenever they want), they need to make the most of it.

 

And the most of it, they certainly do make. Among some of the more amusing things I’ve experienced, a driver I know regularly makes a purposeful turn off-route…to pick up his sister.

 

As the bus is nearing your destination, just knock on the side of the bus (or press the doorbell beside you if there is one), and the driver will pull over at the nearest safe spot to let you off.

 

For this (almost) door-to-door service, you’ll pay the equivalent of about $1 US dollar. (Per bus – more on this below).

 

 

Party on Wheels

Artistic bus decorations

Hailing the bus and enjoying the creative routes is where the fun starts. Once you’re on the bus, you can admire the occasional custom paint job (as seen above), and even the odd light show with strategically placed neon lights. (The outsides of buses are also often adorned with custom slogans too, creating a personality of sorts for each bus).

 

Bus slogan

Depending on the taste of the driver, you’re also likely to be serenaded by reggae music, which is at times played a few decibels higher than it should be, but is generally received with grooving head bobs all around.

 

And sometimes, it’s nice to have something to listen to while you’re hanging on for dear life.

 

 

How They Drive

Yes, I said it. Hanging on for dear life. At the best of times the buses usually rocket past other traffic, and at the more life-threatening of times, they careen around corners with screeching wheels and harrowing consequences if something were to go wrong.

 

What exactly sets the pace, I’m not sure. Once, I was on a bus that was going at a relatively comfortable speed, but on receiving some sort of signal from a bus driver coming the other way, my driver put his cell phone down (ha!) and kicked the vehicle into a gear I wasn’t aware it was capable of.

I had no idea that such a large boxy vehicle could manage the tight (blind) corners on the narrow roads barely two cars wide, and despite my general affinity for speed, I was at my safety limit and almost got off the bus early.

(I didn’t get off the bus, on the premise that I haven’t heard of buses rolling over cliffs from taking corners too fast, so I placed faith in the driver’s guru-talents, hoping he knew something about the laws of physics that I was unaware of.)

 

 

Where Buses Run (and When)

The central hub for most routes is in Grenada’s capital of St. George’s. Buses in Grenada cover most of the main roads, and you’ll rarely wait long for a bus…at least when they’re running. But this is part of the problem; buses don’t run on Sundays or holidays, and depending on the route, the last bus into “town” (being Grenada’s capital: St. George’s) may leave as early as 4pm. (The major buses usually run until 8 or 9pm).

 

Grenada bus on a narrow (two-way!) road

So between potentially long walks to and from the main roads and a severely limited way to get around after hours (taxis – which look just like buses – are way more expensive, even if shared), the bus system in Grenada is just a hair shy of being practical. (Or rather more appropriately – it’s not always convenient).

 

 

A Sense of Community

But Grenada is a small island, which to my eyes requires forgiveness if not everything is convenient. Although the infrastructure of Grenada is formally organized, it also relies on the community coming together to make things happen.

 

As an example, buses often make informal deliveries along the route. The conductor will step out to pick up a packed lunch waiting at the shop, and drop it off for the woman manning a fruit stand further down the road. Or if somebody gets news that an elder is ill, the bus will stop at the chemist to pick up medication and deliver it down the road (along the route) to them.

 

This is just one of the many ways that this small Caribbean island feels more like a little community than an entire country.

 

 

 

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristine Charbonneau November 14, 2012 at 10:10 am

And if you need to go somewhere that the bus doesn’t go (like True Blue Resort), you can ask them to and they’ll tell you how much it will cost. I got one to go there for $10EC (about $4 in the States). The same route would have cost me $50 via a taxi (about $20). On the downside, I have gotten onto one of these buses that makes a special trip to True Blue Resort each afternoon to drop off/pick up workers and I had to sit at a stop down the street for about 15 minutes while we waited for people to get off of work from that location. Then we went another mile and pulled over to the side of the road to wait for a St George’s University bus to connect with us. We ended up waiting for 3 buses before we resumed our route. Which brings up another point….you can’t give people an exact time you will get somewhere if you are depending upon a bus (or 2). I’ve gotten on a bus in St George’s and had to wait a half hour for it to leave (and it was soooo hot…no AC) due to the fact that, like the article mentioned, they wait to be full before leaving. But you get used to it and come to appreciate the community feel. There are so many regulars on the bus and you get to know your driver and some of the other riders because you see each other almost every day. I’d go back in a heartbeat!!

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theprofessionalhobo November 14, 2012 at 11:11 am

Kristine – I see you got the hang of the buses when you were here! Aren’t they fun? :-)

In regards to your point about timing and being late, this is part of a wider indication that ALL sense of time here is much more relaxed. (MUCH). I’ve learned to anticipate that any reasonable estimation of how long something should take needs to be doubled…and even then it’s not always enough time!

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Kristine Charbonneau November 14, 2012 at 9:43 pm

I didn’t wear a watch or have a clock in the house during either of my trips this year. There is zero sense of urgency in Grenada. You may be frustrated at first, but embrace it…we all need to slow down and learn to appreciate our lives more.

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blinkpack November 14, 2012 at 5:54 pm

I love travelling by bus! It’s cheap and you get to rest, and you’ll avoid the stress from bad drivers or traffic. :)

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theprofessionalhobo November 14, 2012 at 6:00 pm

You got it! Although admittedly, sometimes the whole “rest” aspect is a little tough on a bus… :-)

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Tom @ Waegook Tom November 14, 2012 at 9:30 pm

I’m really enjoying all your posts about Grenada. If you were to ask me before reading the posts which island in the Caribbean I’d choose to go to, I’d have picked Grenada, and this is making me want to go even more! The bus system reminds me a little bit of the one that they have in Turkey, but the one in Grenada sounds a lot more relaxed in terms of routing, but with even more insane drivers. Thanks for sharing :)

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theprofessionalhobo November 15, 2012 at 10:19 pm

@Tom – Wow: you actually knew where Grenada is on a map! I’ll admit, I had very little knowledge of this little Caribbean nation prior to actually going.
And yes, I figured the bus system here would be reminiscent of other bus systems, but Turkey wasn’t the first country to come to mind that might be similar. Cool!

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Kristine Charbonneau November 14, 2012 at 9:41 pm

And you haven’t had the full experience of riding a bus in Grenada until you have taken the #6 over the Grand Etang to Grenville. It’s like the craziest roller coaster ride ever!

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theprofessionalhobo November 15, 2012 at 10:20 pm

Ugh….gurgle gurgle….make sure you take some motion sickness tabs….that’s not a route for the faint of heart!

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Red Hunt November 15, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Sounds like fun times….anywhere that you can go with the flow and not really worry about dates, times and schedules….great! Kind of a social experience it sounds like….fun times, even with crazy drivers ;) cool post!

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theprofessionalhobo November 15, 2012 at 10:21 pm

Thanks, Red! Grenada is indeed a very social island…the feeling of community is incredibly strong.

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Kristine Charbonneau November 16, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Grenadians are proud of who they are and where they came from. They know more about their history (and the medicinal uses for all the plants, leaves, trees, fruits that grow on the island). It’s very impressive. Maybe you could write an article about the pride of Grenada and how almost everyone there wear the island’s colors of green, red and yellow. People in the US could stand to learn a lot from these folks! Ask kids (and adults) about any of the US’s history and you’ll get a feel for how little we know about ourselves.

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theprofessionalhobo November 17, 2012 at 3:19 pm

@Kristine – Although I agree completely that many Grenadians are proud of their country and knowledgeable of their history and natural surroundings, I’ve never noticed that people wear the island’s colours. Interesting! I’ll take a closer look!

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Nico @ATravellersJourney November 30, 2012 at 1:23 am

There’s a similar bus system that operates all around Indonesia. In rural areas the system of stopping at any moment to pick up passengers is amazing. In more urban areas like Jakarta it is a disaster. You get lines of these buses blocking up the roads waiting for passengers and creating all sorts of traffic jams.

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theprofessionalhobo November 30, 2012 at 7:12 am

Nico – I’d imagine this is a practical bus system for lots of countries. But yes – in a busy city I’d imagine it’s difficult….even in the “town” of St George’s (Grenada’s capital, and where the bus station is), buses can create some havoc.

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Rock April 30, 2014 at 5:10 pm

I love your site and adventure! I hope all is well for you in the world. My wife and I arrive in Grenada on Sunday for a week of exploring. Your writing and guidance will come in handy. Thank you! Besides hot, how is walking along the roadside? We’ll be in Mango Bay and then Petite Anse in the north. I hope busses cover that distance. Thanks again! -Rock

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Nora Dunn April 30, 2014 at 5:42 pm

Hi Rock,
Walking along the roadsides are fine, but be aware of traffic since the roads can be very narrow with very little shoulder.
I’m not familiar with Mango Bay, but I hear Petite Anse is absolutely gorgeous – perfect for a retreat. Enjoy your trip!

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