Ralph Linton (1945) defined the culture of a society as “the way of life of its members: the collection of ideas and habits which they learn, share and transmit from generation to generation”.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, subculture means “an identifiable subgroup within a society or group of people, especially one characterised by beliefs or interests at variance with those of the larger group”.
The aforementioned definition of culture and subculture can be used to understand the minivan culture in St.Vincent and the Grenadines.
Undoubtedly, minivans provide an invaluable service to this country, taking workers, school children and ordinary commuters to and from their destination. Furthermore, during the silly season they transport supporters of the two major political parties to political meetings and rallies.
However, many persons have expressed the view that minivan operators/drivers and conductors have become the law unto themselves, without regard for other road users.
As a result, Vincentians from all walks of life have been calling in to “talk shows” on radio complaining about the behaviour of minivans on the road, urging the authorities to take action, which seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Many Vincentians have even expressed the view that St.Vincent and Grenadines has the worst public transport system in the Caribbean, barring Haiti.
Recently, the bus fare on different routes was raised but the behaviour of minivans have persisted, which seems to suggest that it has become a subculture, which this article seeks to capture.
What is this supposedly minivan subculture? From observation, it encompasses loud and lewd music. Moreover, music is laced with profanities, badmanism, violence, debauchery and male chauvinism and masochism — where the subject and object of submissiveness and ridicule is the female sex.
The speed at which these minivans travel is another discernible feature of this minivan culture. Unfortunately, the speeding and cut-throat competition have resulted in a high incidence of accidents among minivans, resulting in many insurance brokerages refusing to provide coverage for these minivans.
Ever so often, we view videos on social media with minivans racing to see who has the fastest machine or the loudest and “baddest” amplified system. If a passenger dares to complain about the speeding or loud music, you are reminded by the driver or conductor that you can catch another van.
Minivans/drivers have not only become a law unto themselves, they seemingly set rules pertaining to driving on the road. On any given day, barring Sunday, you can see many van drivers and conductors expressing their dissatisfaction and frustration with other drivers by blowing their horns to drive faster. Furthermore, if another drivers stop in front of them, obstructing their hustling for a dollar, you would be given a tongue lashing, laced with expletives, while the conductor may be gesticulating angrily with his head and hand out of the van window to remonstrate his disgust.
In some Caribbean countries it is standard that the driver of a public transport be of a certain age, wear a uniform or wear specific shoes. However, most drivers of these minivans wear slippers when at the wheel – (God forbid the slippers do not become entangled with the gas or brake pedal; a catastrophe that is waiting to happen).
By law, most minivans are allowed to carry a maximum of 18 passengers. Therefore, the conductor may often have his rump protruding through the window of the exit door and his arm extended over passengers in the first row of seats to increase carrying capacity. So often you would hear grumblings from passengers: “He smell so bad and he got his mouldy arm over people.”
On reflection, it appears that minivans have become the third agency of socialisation after the family and school, as teenagers, in and out of school, wait for “special van.” On Fridays, young males can be seen parading, drinking and joy riding after these vans have finished work for the day.
The Little Tokyo Bus Terminal illuminates the lawlessness that prevails on the road by these minivans. On normal days, you may see several conductors wrangling and mishandling a potential passenger to secure his/her bag(s) with groceries, in an attempt to get them to ride in their minivan.
During normal working days, you can see vans stopping and blocking the entrance and exit to the terminal, holding up traffic in the process, in a deliberate effort to prevent another minivan from getting in front of or ahead of them on the road.
At the wheels of most minivans are young men, making you wonder whether they finished school, did a written and driver’s test or bought their licence.
On a journey to Kingstown, it is not uncommon to see a minivan suddenly stop and the driver exit the van, only for a new driver, supposedly his brethren, to take control of the wheel — leaving you to wonder whether that person has the appropriate licence to drive such a vehicle.
The minivan’s destination is peripatetic in nature, with no fix or assigned route. Many passengers experience the chagrin or distress of being left short of their final destination as minivans suddenly turn back short of their intended destination, if they deem they could get a full trip, especially when Community College girls are in a gathering at a bus stop. So, too, if traffic is heavy, they would take a bypass road if available, leaving many commuters abandoned off of their destination route .
In all of the drama with the minivan subculture, we cannot forget the Rock Gutter incident, the school child losing his life as a result of a head injury on a lamp post or that little child who was run over.
Where is the government in all of this? To overcome the lawless subculture of the minivans, several things can and must be done. The most important being the zoning of the vans to run on certain routes. In doing so, we can mitigate against the cut throat culture that exists at the moment.
Other countries in the Caribbean have introduced a system where a definitive number of licences are issued. For instance, a new minivan operator can only obtain a licence if another owner drops out of the pool of licence issued or sells that license to a new owner.
The deployment of traffic wardens to the Leeward and Windward Bus Terminals would help to regulate the behaviour of minivans in the terminals.
Caribbean countries such as Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana have all passed laws prohibiting amplified music in public transport, restricting music played in buses to that on radio stations.
The authorities can increase the age at which someone may be able to drive a public transport. In Barbados, you have to be over the age of 30.
Plainclothes police can covertly be placed on minivans and charge offenders who violate the traffic laws and Noise Act.
The authorities have dawdled on the vendors’ relocation and we are witnessing the same situation with the minivans, which may create a dilemma when they choose to act.
At present, we may have more questions than answers but the authorities need to arrest the deviant minivan subculture before it’s too late.
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].