Riding the bus in Grenada is the best. First of all, it is ridiculously cheap. Second of all, it is fast and efficient. Third of all, it’s usually fun. Can’t beat it!
The first thing to know is the buses are actually minivans that are privately owned. You can recognize a bus by two things: the license plate will start with an H, and there will be a decal on the windshield showing which route it is running.
Taxis are also frequently minivans, and their license plates start with an H also. How do you distinguish between a bus and a taxi? Taxis won’t have the route number on the windshield, but they may have “TAXI” in small letters instead. But the big giveaway is that all buses have a conductor, which is a person on the left side of the bus who hangs out of a window looking for fares and managing stops. If there is only a driver in a minivan, it is a taxi, and that’s a lot more expensive.
The second thing to know is that while buses pick up people waiting at bus stops, they will also stop to pick you up virtually anywhere else. Conductors are always casting their eagle eyes up the cross streets and into store fronts for potential fares. We were on a bus that backed up 200 feet along a major road, against traffic, to then back into a side street another 100 feet and pick up a fare who was walking down the hill. Nothing is too much hassle, because the bus drivers and conductors hustle.
As a bus approaches, the driver will honk at you, and the conductor will wave. He will also yell something, and for the life of us, we can’t understand what. If you want to catch the bus and you’re a tourist, wave back, and they will screech to a halt. Locals who have grown up with the system appear to give no outward signs, yet somehow the conductor reads their body language and knows to stop.
If you hear a bus honking and don’t want a ride, just shake your head. Any other movement—jerking your head in surprise at the noise, pointing at something unrelated, making eye contact with the driver or conductor, or otherwise paying them any attention—will be interpreted as a request to stop. Treat buses like a high-priced auction: if you don’t want to buy a $120,000 banana taped to a wall, don’t react.
Before the bus has even stopped, the conductor will fling open the sliding door and pop out of his little folding seat. When you get on you can tell him where you’d like to stop, but it isn’t required. He may tell you where to sit; there are three bench seats, two folding seats, and the front passenger seat, and the conductor is well-versed in the fine art of shuffling passengers around for the best fit. If the bus looks like it’s full but still stops, get on; the conductor knows best.
It’s important to note that there is room for you to sit down and put a bag on your lap, but that’s about it. There is no trunk or cargo area, and there is virtually no leg room. If you are planning on hauling lots of bags or packages, budget for a taxi as you simply cannot fit extra bags on the bus.
Once you’re seated on the bus, hang on. There are no seatbelts, but there are handles on the back of the seats in front of you. The roads here are twisty and steep, and depending on the driver, you can hurtle down and around them at terrific speeds. There is often music playing, and it’s usually quite loud. There’s no air conditioning, but the windows are always open.
From what we’ve seen, no one eats, drinks, smokes, yells into a cell phone, or brings an animal on the bus. You don’t talk to the driver, just the conductor. The buses are all clean and generally in good condition, and it’s clear that the drivers take pride in them. Frankly, it’s a much nicer experience than the mass transit buses we’ve taken in other countries.
Honking is an important form of communication here. The honks are all jaunty “toot-toots,” not the angry blat. From what we’ve seen, one honks when:
- You see someone you know (and everyone knows everyone else here)
- You pass another bus, coming or going
- You are going around a curve
- You are changing lanes
- You are overtaking a vehicle going the same way
- You are indicating to a vehicle that they can turn in front of you
- You are asking a pedestrian, “Do you want a ride?”
- You are expressing admiration for an attractive lady
- You are honking along to a song on the radio
The driver keeps driving until you tell him when you want to get off; there is no “we stop at every bus stop” rule. If you didn’t tell the conductor of your destination when you got on, knock on the roof of the bus. If the conductor knows where you want to stop, he will knock on the window or the side of the bus or snap his fingers in a complicated series. This is his signal to the driver to pull over at the next bus stop. Although buses will generally pick you up anywhere, they generally drop off at bus stops only. If you want a special location, you can negotiate that for a slightly higher fee.
Bus stops are sponsored by local businesses and are colorfully painted with logos and ads. Most importantly, they generally have a roof, which is awesome during the short but intense rain showers we get here. Sometimes a corn vendor will be there roasting corn on the cob over a small fire. If there’s no structure, there will be a pull-off with “BUS STOP” painted on the road.
When you get off, you pay the conductor. The fare per person is $2.50 EC, which works out to $0.93 USD. No tip is expected, and while exact change is appreciated, it’s not required.
We ride the hell out of the bus because it’s so inexpensive and convenient. Also, you have to appreciate how hard the drivers and conductors hustle. As long as you don’t carry more than a backpack, Grenada’s buses simply cannot be beaten for quick and easy transportation.