Buses for cruise-ship visitors cause a stir in Bermuda

Hello again my dear reader,

I write this to report some bizarre developments in the Bermuda tourism industry. Bermuda has been trying, at the cost of many millions of dollars, to attract more and bigger cruise-ships to the island. This makes sense from a purely financial point of view: more visitors should translate to more tourism income for the recession-hit island. But, it comes with some further associated costs. The environmental cost is one. Bigger ships cause a greater stir in the water when they run their giant engines. This harms the corals, there are no two ways about that. And once coral is killed or otherwise harmed, it takes up to 50 years for it to regrow. This is evident in places like the Dominican Republic where people used to not care about the coral reefs and many of them were destroyed by pollution and other associated tourist activities. Another cost of attracting more ships to the island is the burden it puts on local infrastructure. Before we move on to buses and the transport system in general, let’s take something as simple as drinkable water. All Bermuda water comes from the sky in the form of rain (there is also a reverse osmosis plant but the majority of water is still rainwater collected from roofs) and there are a certain number of houses for the population. If we assume a family size of 4, on average, there are going to be one quarter of the population number of houses on the island. This number drops even more if you consider that some people share, others live in condos and apartments. The short story is that there is only so much rain-collecting real estate. If thousands of people come to the island all at once and need to drink water, there is going to be a shortage. Then, take rubbish collection. How much additional rubbish is created by the vistors on the Explorer of the Seas if they all go out to eat at restaurants and drink in pubs? Well, I don’t know exactly but I would say a lot. So, the country needs to be prepared to feed the visitors, provide water for them, collect their rubbish and treat them with the respect that is appropriate for paying customers.

So, we get to the point of the story, buses. In Bermuda, visitors are not allowed to hire cars, there are only 50cc scooters that are available for hire. Dockyard, where the biggest ships dock is 20km away from Hamilton. There is really very little in Dockyard: 2-3 restaurants and pubs, the glassworks, the maritime museum, a snorkelling place and a mall with tourist shops, food, trinkets etc. So, it’s inevitable that people will want to get to Hamilton. To do this, they can’t all hire scooters so some have to take the bus or a taxi. But, the taxi ride to Hamilton alone would be $100. I don’t know this number for sure but taxis are fiendishly expensive, like many other services here. The taxi drivers may indeed have a vested interest in the buses not running but the buses are an inevitability. If so many people are to come here, the buses simply have to run and have to be frequent enough that they don’t all fill up before they get to Somerset, Warwick, Paget etc otherwise no locals would be able to make it to Hamilton by bus.

It turns out that this is exactly what happened recently. The buses were running as usual plus there were additional chartered buses for cruise-ship passengers. But, there were two boats in port at the same time. Total number of visitors? 5,500 give or take. Unless a genuine effort is made to arrange for them to be transported from Dockyard to the rest of the island, there is going to be a problem. So, the visitors from the cruise-ship spilt over from the chartered buses to the normal island buses. The net effect was dual. Not only were the visitors furious that they were unable to get to Hamilton but the locals were also annoyed that all the buses from Dockyard to town were always full so they couldn’t use the service either. The problem stems pretty directly from a lack of organisation. It’s not that there are not enough buses or that there are not enough drivers. But, bus drivers here work for 4 days a week and get paid overtime if they work a fifth day. So, the bus company which, of course, is national and therefore funded via the circuitous route of the public coffer had placed a moratorium on overtime. This meant that, even though there were drivers who could have taken buses to take the tourists and locals to their respective destinations, they couldn’t work due to the overtime ban. Apparently, also, a lot of buses are in the shop for repairs…

The net result is, the cat is out of the bag. The tourists have been convinced to come here at some cost, they have arrived and they are now unhappy. They blog about it, the national news writes about it, the politicians and local media get involved. some comments are particularly scathing eg one person said “The folks on that Island must have brain damage from all the sun and salt water” and the story has taken unnecessarily large proportions. The minister for transport also got involved to try and undo the Gordian knot.

But, it may be too little, too late. Bermuda is a truly beautiful place and it is full of mostly very nice people. But, the damage from this may go beyond what can be easily fixed. There are other places that North American tourists can visit to escape from the cold. The whole Caribbean is one example as is Mexico and Cuba. These countries are prepared for tourists. They are ready to accept the tourist income and are willing to do anything to bring more people to visit them. So, why come to Bermuda if you’re going to be stuck in Dockyard?

What can be done? A lot of things can be done but which will be done is another story. The cruise-ship companies may need to hire buses specifically for their tourists. The bus company of Bermuda would lose income from this but it doesn’t seem overly concerned. One solution for the problem that was suggested but I hope will not be implemented was to appoint a person who counts how many tourists are on the bus versus how many non-tourists and stop people from boarding the bus at Dockyard so that locals can also be served. This is ridiculously discriminatory and I hope someone figures it out before it’s implemented. Imagine coming to Bermuda at the cost of many thousands of dollars and then being told by someone at the bus stop that you can’t take the bus because you’re not local and they have to uphold the right local-non-local ratio!

I really hope that the government step in to fix this problem in a better way. If they don’t, they could be responsible for large-scale cancellations and for bad publicity with potentially irreversible consequences. If the island wants to continue to be viewed as a friendly place with a moderate climate that is close enough to North America and yet tropical enough to be seen as a valued tourist destination, something definitely should be done. The cruise-ship schedule is known and published. For the days with boats in port, more buses should be made available. If enough buses are parked by the boats, no tourist would walk to the other bus stop to take the normal bus. This would solve the problem. The government need to spend money for the country to make money, there is no other way.

Anyway, that’s it for now, more stories to come soon, hopefully more optimistic ones.

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