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Minibuses

Minibuses in Kingstown in February 2021. (iWN photo)

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By Gumbsie

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.

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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].

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9 replies on “Arresting SVG’s deviant minivan subculture”

  1. This is a brilliant and well overdue article by Gumbsie. This call for control of this lawlessness is long overdue. I am witness to all of these things happening in beautiful st Vincent vacationing for four weeks over the Christmas holidays. I echo the same concerns with this mini van crisis. I support the fact that this industry is vital to our beautiful island but the time for legislation by the government and authorities to stem this madness is long overdue before tourist which is vital to our country is threatened as well because folks will avoid St Vincent like a plague.

  2. I hope the powers that be read this article and take the necessary actions to arrest this long standing problem.

  3. The pressure has to come in part from passengers. Why sit there quietly when some moron is putting your life at risk?

  4. MINI BUS DRIVERS in svg should be minimum age 20 yrs old or older and must also pass a 2 nd driving TEST called a PUBLIC SERVICE VEHICLE ( P S V )(LICENSE ) now once pass the test that driver must be issued with a badge with a number, that the public can report him or her to the police at any time , if bad behavior occurs, then the police will investigate by riding on the vehicle unknown to the driver to see at first hand, then take actions there and then, this is the only way things are going to change and LIVES SAVE in svg

  5. This culture is unacceptable when so much risk is at stake . The passengers and the general public at large is endangered with this type of recklessness.
    The government needs to step in immediately and put some measures in place to control this problem.
    Use some of the measures used by other Caribbean government as mentioned earlier.
    I saw this situation firsthand visiting St Vincent over the Christmas holidays.

  6. Donald De Riggs says:

    Gumbsie,

    This article should be read to the entire class by the best reader’s from grade 6, Form 1 and upwards.

    Like other countries in the region we need to limit the music played on public transport from local radio stations, and to impose fines, for every violation even if the violate that law five times in one day. Yes, give plainclothes police work to do to help curb this madness.

    I had to ask a conductor recently if he was born from a mother, because the song that was being played disrespected all women.

    Some speed traps must be set on random days to pull up reckless drivers, with a suspension of their license after the second offense. Legislation also needs to be passed to allow evidence collected by radar guns to be used as evidence in court to prosecute drivers who exceed the speed limit.

    And Yes, the paying public have a right to demand a safe and reliable service.

    And Yes, we also need a SUNDAY bus service…..there are nurses, security guards, police, church goers who need such a service. And if such a service is available on a Sunday, many persons will also use the service to go on the beach, waterfalls and recreational parks.

    There can be arrangements with drivers who observe the Sabbath to work on a Sunday. Easy so.

    Let our service be primarily for Vincentians, visitors will also benefit from this reliable and safe service.

    Don De Riggs

  7. Publish my previous two comments re this article.
    It is not defamatory. You guys act like chickens.
    Publish this.

  8. Concerned Citizen says:

    I sometimes wonder if we have a functioning police force, I thought that a ban was placed on loud music being played in vehicles on our roads, yet nothing has changed. All that is required is noise meters which can be used as evidence in our courts and very stiff penalties for those who flout the laws. We must have meters because police officers cannot be expected to use a subjective assessment of what is loud and what is within reason. A maximum decibel level should be widely published and any music played above that level would automatically lead to a fine on the first offence, subsequent flouting of the law would mean a larger fine and music equipment being siezed. Dangerous driving would also have severe penalties with points being placed on ĺawbreakers licences with a maximum level of say twelve points in any 12 month period, any points above that level would mean disqualification of licence for one year. Causing any accident through dangerous driving would mean an automatic driving ban for whatever period that has been set in law, driving whilst disqualified would attract a period in prison. This system works very well in the UK, and should urgently be adopted. Most of the bad and inconsiderate driving would be greatly reduced in our country by this simple but effective system. None of these morons would dare drive like they do, in the UK.
    We should also have a mandatory yearly vehicle inspection for all vehicles over three years old, and I mean a real vehicle inspection, not the rubbish which passes for a vehicle inspection in this country which would weed out the defective and dangerous vehicles allowed on our inadequate roads.
    We can have a more ordered society if we pass and uphold laws on our roads, but I guess for that to happen would require a progressive government which has the interest of our country in the forefront of their thoughts.
    Just think of the amount of money which would accrue to the treasury through fines if just a few laws were enforced or legislated. On the other hand we can just continue to accept what is happening and accept a dysfunctional system.

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