Transport Minister Zane DeSilva announced a 40 percent boost in the average number of buses in service daily, with the number up to 70 from 40 buses in use and “far fewer cancellations”.
But what does the 2019 Green Paper on Transport say about Bermuda’s public bus service?
“The main issue with buses is their reliability.”
But did you know that expenditure for Bermuda’s public bus service has increased from $5.8M25 in 1999, to $7.2M in 2016/17.
The increase in operational expenditure out of the public purse was attributed “to inventory and supply purchases for the maintenance of the ageing bus fleet, as well as employee overtime and the increase in fuel costs and inflation”.
With the exception of “daily commuting by the working population”, Bermuda’s public buses are “used primarily by students and visitors”.
Only “7 percent of local residents use the bus daily”, with “9 percent of bus commuters using the service a few times a month”.
But while 39 percent said they only used the service a few times a year, 39 percent also said “they never do”. But 49 percent of air visitors and 18 percent of cruise ship passengers said they used public buses during their visit.
According to the Public Transport Survey conducted in 2018: “There has been a steady decline in bus service satisfaction indicators among visitors from 81 percent in 2009 to 49 percent in 2017.”
The 2019 Green Paper on Transport puts a Disclaimer up front stating that the “consultation and discussion document only and represents the collective views of the respondents to the open consultative period November 2017 to December 2018”.
Issues documented “do not reflect those of the Government of Bermuda, but rather those of the people of Bermuda and visitors who have spoken frankly about transport in Bermuda, either on the record or in confidence”.
The report cites the “Government’s Perspective today regarding the future of transportation in Bermuda”.
The first section starts with Bermuda’s ‘Ageing Bus Fleet & Cancellations’, with sections on the ‘Bus Schedule & Reliability’, the ‘Impact on Revenue and the need to go Cashless’, Ferries and other issues plaguing the Ministry and the tourism industry.
The general overview also pointed up the fact that “investment” in the island’s bus fleet “has not kept pace with demands made on the fleet”.
As a result: “The Department of Public Transportation (DPT) is unable to deliver the level of service it is mandated to provide.”
The “bus fleet included 105 buses of which only 77 were licensed” in 2018 when four new buses that arrived.
“A further eight buses are on order for delivery in 2019. These newest buses cost approximately $369,00022 each.
Prior to the Minister’s update last month, “roughly 50 percent of the fleet is out of service on a regular basis…due to an assortment of issues ranging from uneven and delayed investment in new buses, maintenance resources (technicians, parts and tooling), repairs and vandalism, and the unavailability of qualified drivers. This leads to daily cancellations of a number of routes”.
While “each bus has the capacity to hold 50 passengers – 38 on seats and 12 standing”, on the South Shore routes, particularly near Horseshoe Bay, buses are often filled to capacity with far more than 12 passengers standing.
Stakeholders stressed the need to “create a long-term strategy to replace the existing fleet with 120 new energy efficient or electric vehicles over five to ten years that would be smaller, cheaper and cleaner to operate”.
They also urged the Government to “integrate the bus schedule and ferry schedules to offer better connectivity options, to allow at least ten minutes between a ferry arrival in Hamilton and a bus departure from the Hamilton Bus Terminal.
The same change was recommended for “the St George ferry departure schedule and the next departing bus from St George, in case the ferry is full”.
Other suggestions included posting printed bus schedules at every bus stop, with a call to “add more bus service in North Hamilton”.
On increasing revenues, stakeholders also called on government to implement “two steps which are critical to reducing the burden on tax payers to subsidize the bus service”
The report also stated that the DPT “made a policy decision in 2016, due to lack of bus inventory, to withdraw between eight and 12 public buses from sightseeing tours, with effect from 1 April 2017”.
“This represents an approximate loss of $1M annually in sightseeing revenue to DPT. This measure left shore excursion agents to rely heavily on the minibus inventory from the General Transportation Area (GTA).
“This policy results in approximately 30 to 60 minibuses being unavailable to operate out of the Dockyard GTA for trips that are not pre-arranged.”
As the number of cruise ship passengers increase, the report said the number of minibuses will increase as well.
But due to “the lack of minibus inventory, on days when there are two ships in port at Dockyard”, stakeholders supported the purchase of 12 new buses “specifically for cruise passenger sightseeing”, with the approval of “up to 20 more minibus applications for general conveyance”.
They also supported allowing “cruise lines to import their own sightseeing omnibuses with a minimum of 38 seats”, with the appointment of “a local agent to manage the cruise passenger sightseeing operation”.
For areas like St David’s where “there has been inconsistent public bus transport” for both visitors and residents alike, including “workers in the Southside area”, the report noted that visitors in particular, “have been left stranded at Clearwater Beach.
“The BLDC’s mandate to reinvigorate the area is affected by inconsistent bus service,” the report said.
“There is little incentive for visitors or locals without their own transport to visit the area if reliable public transport is not available.
“Businesses in St David’s appear ‘cut off’ without transportation. The number of St David’s’ residences has increased over the last ten years, but public transportation has not kept pace with the population increase.
“St George’s stakeholders have tried, unsuccessfully, to sustain a minibus service between King’s Square in St George’s and Clearwater Beach between April and October, primarily for cruise ship guests.
“Generally minibus owners are more supportive of the Dockyard to Horseshoe Bay beach ‘run’ as it caters to a greater volume of traffic and is more financially viable.
“A feeder service for this area using smaller public buses”, with the service outsourced “to private minibus operators using public transportation fares” was recommended.
“An MOU commenced November 14, 2018 between GOB and Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) USA to investigate and develop a strategy to transition from the current fossil fuel infrastructure to electric bus fleet. This may include smaller buses.”
The Minister stated that while the Department of Public Transportation (DPT) has worked “tirelessly” to improve the situation, nine new buses were added to the ageing fleet within the past year.
Three more buses are scheduled to arrive between September and November this year.
Another fourteen (14) buses were also recently given a “midlife refit” to extend their time in service “by a minimum of five years”.
Plans for another project to address emissions problems with 16 buses are now underway.
“A further project has now commenced on the sixteen 2014 series buses to address poor emissions and soot, said the Minister.
“The improved maintenance has resulted in the average, daily in-service count increasing from 50 to 70 buses, which in turn has resulted in fewer service cancellations.”