A simple guide on how to use Jamaica public transport

Do you want to explore the island and travel like a local? No problem. Traveling on Jamaica’s public transport is one way to mingle with residents. It is also a cheap and easy way to tour.

Although Jamaica’s public transport is easy to use, it might not be comfortable. Operators typically pack their vehicles to make a profit, so space sometimes is limited. If you are claustrophobic and don’t like confined spaces, please choose a different mode of travel. 

However, if you are up for an adventure and ready to experience real Jamaica, I am here to guide you. I will show you how to use the country’s public transportation system. So you can safely enjoy the authentic culture

Understanding Jamaica’s public transportation system

Let us look at the setup of Jamaica’s public transportation system.

Each city and major towns have a transportation center. From there, you get transport to other cities, towns, and villages. They are also referred to as bus parks or bus terminus.

There are also taxi stands. This is where Route taxis wait to get passengers. You will find them at transportation centers, nearby streets, or close to a popular gas station.

Although there is an important transportation center in each city and town, not all public passenger vehicle loads there; therefore, you might have to walk a little distance to get connecting transport to your destination.

Urban transport centers and their connections

Kingston city has two major transport hubs, Halfway and Downtown. Halfway Transport Center caters to government buses (JUTC) that operate in Kingston, Saint Andrew, and sections of Saint Catherine and Clarendon. Click here for HalfWay Transport Center.

Privately own buses (Coaster bus, Minibus) that supplement the JUTC that load passengers at bus parks nearby. There are also Route taxis and Hackney taxis in the same vicinity.

Coaster buses are public transport owned and operated by private individuals. Route taxi transport passengers on a particular route, while Hackney taxis transport passengers for hire.

Downtown Kingston connects all parish capitals and most major towns. Therefore, it is easy to get anywhere on the island by public transportation from downtown.

Here is a link to parishes in Jamaica and their capitals.

Parish capitals link towns and towns to villages. So you can travel from any parish capital to all destinations on the island because it is easy to get transport from there to connect you with a vehicle going to your destination.

There are two major bus parks downtown; one caters to JUTC (government buses), while the other serves rural and privately owned public buses. However, they are some distance apart, so they might be challenging to find. JUTC bus hub is at North Parade, while the Rural bus Terminus is on Darling street.

Here is a Google map link to downtown Kingston’s JUTC bus hub.

Click here for the Rural bus terminus.

The Montego Bay Metro serves Montego Bay, sections of Hanover, Trelawny, and Westmoreland. The Jamaican Government owns and operates these buses. They are like the JUTC buses that run in Kingston.

Like Kingston, privately owned public transport supplements the Montego Bay Metro, unlike Kingston, all public buses and most taxis operate from the Montego Bay Transport center.

Types of public transport

Let us look at public transportation in Jamaica. There are two types; Government and privately owned.

The Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) and the Montego Bay Metro (MBM) are government-owned buses. These large buses transport up to a hundred passengers, seated and standing. The government buses are yellow, with the Jamaica flag painted on the front.

Jamaica Government bus
The back of a government bus

Privately owned public transport

Privately owned public transport makes up most of the transportation system. Private individuals own and operate, but the Government regulates them. All public transportation has red license plates.

Several types of privately owned public transport. 1. Minibus 2. Coaster bus 3. Luxury Bus 4. Route taxi 5. Hackney Taxi 6. Robot taxi 7. Bike taxi

Buses

Minibusses are small buses licensed to carry up to eleven passengers but sometimes transport up to twenty people. They are yellow, and their destination is on the front and back.

Before you hop on a minibus, remember that insurance only covers eleven people, including the driver. In addition, insurance does not cover passengers in the middle seats; therefore, it is ill-advised to travel on an overcrowded bus.

Minibus in Kingston Jamaica

Coaster buses are midsize transport that can legally carry twenty-two people, including the driver. However, operators of these buses rarely follow the rules. Instead, they transport up to forty people, especially on lengthy journeys such as Montego Bay to Kingston.

They come in many colors and have distinct features and names. So it is easy to identify each bus.

Coaster bus at Cross Bus Stop

The Kingsford Express is the largest luxury public bus company operating on the island. These are large buses that offer world-class services. They run between the two major cities and service tourist destinations along the north and south coasts. Convenience such as recline seat, legroom, onboard restroom, wifi connection, and charging outlet is available.

Rout taxi operates on a specific route. It usually is within the parish boundaries. They have red license plates with black and white cube shapes on the sides in web-like patterns. There is a yellow taxi sign on the top and their destination written on the side. They can legally carry four passengers, but most don’t follow this rule.

Route Taxi Down Town Kingston

Here is some useful Route taxi information.

Hackney Taxis are for hire; they take you anywhere you want to go. They have black and yellow cube shape weblike patterns on the sides.  Red license plate and a yellow taxi sign on the top. They operate on no specific route but usually work with a taxi company.

Hackney Taxi

Here is a list of Hackney Carriage Company

Illegal Taxis

Robot taxis are private vehicles that operate illegally. They have no specific route and work anywhere they can earn.

Traveling in these taxis is unsafe because sometimes criminals pose as robot taxi drivers to rob people. Not only that, but their insurance does not cover passengers. So if there is an accident, you are on your own. Therefore, it is ill-advised for you to travel in an illegal taxi.

In some sections of the island, bikes operate as taxis carrying up to four passengers.

Bike taxis are illegal and dangerous. Most times, these bikes do not have insurance. Furthermore, passenger for hire is against the insurance policy even if they do. Therefore, you are taking a big risking riding on one.

Bike taxis are mainly operating in Westmoreland but gaining popularity in other parishes.

What to expect on public transportation

Your experience traveling on public transportation will differ depending on your choice.

It is the norm for passengers traveling on minibusses, coaster buses, and route taxis to cram together, especially during peak hours.

It is even worse for lengthy trips. Your legs become numb because blood flow reduces. In addition, sitting in a confined space and not being able to move your legs affects circulation.

Coaster buses in urban areas are notorious for their party-like atmosphere. Loud lude music, flashing disco lights cutting in and out of traffic as if moving to a rhythm.

Following traffic rules doesn’t apply to them. Either they don’t know or have no regard for the road code.

Conductors and drivers are crude and unprofessional and don’t take kindly to complaints about their behavior. Be alert if you are traveling on a coaster bus in Kingston Saint Andrew or Spanish Town because it is a favorite for pickpockets and thieves.

Traveling on coaster buses to rural parishes, the experience is pleasant. Apart from overcrowding, it is enjoyable, and the view is lovely.

Traveling to Kingston from the north coast

If you have a heart condition, I do not advise you to travel on a coaster bus from Montego to Kingston or from Ocho Rios to Kingston.

They have a set number of trips they try to complete each day. So it is the norm to speed, especially on toll roads. When they are on windy roads, the side of the bus tent leans as if tipping over. The sound of the wheels rubbing on the wheel arch is typical.

If you are adventurous, these buses are perfect for you. Note that major accidents are not common despite their disregard for the road code. 

Route taxis display the same behavior as coaster buses. However, they are more prone to accidents. 

Jamaicans are friendly and love to talk, so it is the norm for a conversation to last the entire journey. It even involved the whole bus. It sometimes leads to heated debates among strangers. The aggressive tone is alarming, but fighting is not shared. It is just their way of expressing themselves, so don’t be alarmed.

JUTC/Montego Bay Metro

JUTC/Montego Bay Metro drivers are professional and follow the road code, although sometimes they drive aggressively. They carry standing passengers, so expect people to be close to you during peak hours. Schoolchildren also commute on them.

Buses are clean and air-conditioned. Plainclothes police officers travel on them sometimes to provide security. Local radio station pays typically in the back. As a result, the experience will be a lot more pleasant and uneventful. 

However, it is common for preachers to have sermons on some of these buses. Preaching on buses is against the policy, but people still preach.

Luxury public bus _Knutsford Express

These are luxury buses that offer world-class services. Drivers are pleasant and professional. Buses are clean and comfortable, with restrooms on board. They only carry seated passengers, and buses are usually quiet. You can read or work while commuting.

How to use public transportation

Using public transportation in Jamaica is easy if you understand the system.

Government-operated buses all have numbers that tell which route they operate on. The electronic display board shows the route number and destination. Here is a link to JUTC for schedules and routes.

Passengers board at the bus park or bus stops. If you are at the bus stop, flag down one is going to your destination. Here is a link for the Montego Bay Metro schedule and routes.

Passengers pay with cash or a bus card. If you are using cash, ensure you have Jamaican currency no more significant than $500. Only the JUTC that operates in Kingston uses a smart card. You pay the driver or conductor when boarding.

Smart cards are available at Halfway Tree Transportation Center, JUTC Downtown hub, JUTC Spanish Town office, JUTC Portmore, and their mobile unit office. You will also need a valid ID to purchase your card.

JUTC Smart Card

Government buses and Knutsford Express run on a schedule; however other buses and route taxis depart for their destination when they are full.

Tickets for Knutsford Express are purchased online or at their office before departure. They have specific pickup and drop-off points. Click here for a link to their website.

Taking a Coaster bus Minibus or Rout Taxi

Getting a coaster bus, minibus, or route taxi is the same. First, locate where the route you want is park sit, and wait until they are complete.

Sometimes drivers aggressively compete for passengers. Be assertive, don’t allow anyone to direct you to a vehicle unless you are sure it is going to your destination. Ask the driver where they are going before boarding.

It is a common practice for buses or taxis to honk their horn and point in the direction they are going. Some will even stop and ask if you want to board a transport or flag down one going to your destination.

If you are unsure where to get off, ask the driver to show you. They will be happy to help.

Some buses collect fares before they depart. Others while they are driving; however, taxis collect payment when you reach your destination. They only accept Jamaican currency and don’t like thousand or five thousand dollar bills. So ensure you have small bills before boarding.

Cost of public transport

Traveling on public transport in Jamaica is cheap. The price of government-operated buses ranges from $30 to $100. However, they offer a premium service that costs more.

Luxury Bus/ Knutsford Express starts from about $1500.

Coasters and Minibus price ranges from $100 up, depending on the distance traveled.

Route taxi prices range from $100 up to $250. Here is a breakdown of route taxi fares and Routes. Not every operator follows this guideline.

For Hackney Taxi, the price starts at about 300 dollars.

Jamaica hackney taxi fare chart

Conclusion

Traveling on public transport is another way of exploring and getting an authentic experience of Jamaica’s culture. Therefore, it is essential to understand the transportation system when planning your trip. Knowing where you are going, and the best route to get there will save you time and cause fewer headaches.

Jamaica’s transportation system can get you anywhere on the island safely. However, the further you are away from a town, the less reliable it is. Waiting hours for a taxi is a common thing in rural areas. This is because the population is small, and few people regularly travel outside their communities.

Traveling on public transportation outside the city or major towns at night is a challenge. Because after certain hours, public transport stops operating, even in populated areas.

If you are traveling to a rural district, get the number of a local taxi driver. It might be a lifesaver.

Jamaica is a beauty with wonderful people, but like everywhere else, there are evil people among us. Therefore, you must be aware of your surroundings and take precautions because your safety comes first.

Finally, Google Maps works perfectly in Jamaica, so that you can find it anywhere on the map. However, getting a reliable internet connection is challenging in rural areas. Therefore, getting directions for your destination where the internet is available is best.

I hope this post was helpful.

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