Thursday, March 13, 2008

Public Transit in the US Virgin Islands

I had a great time spending a week in the United States Virgin Islands and haven't posted any of my photos - until now. In line with the transportation theme of my recent postings, I thought you would be interested to see how most people get around on St. Thomas where I was staying. The island has a population of just over 50,000 and is about 31 square miles in area (Charlottesville is about 40,000 population and 10 square miles). Public transportation was primarily by Safari Bus - converted pickup trucks that seated up to 27 passengers. It appears that most of the Safaris were independently owned and highly customized. I don't remember seeing any two alike.

Several Safari routes existed to get residents and visitors to resorts, beaches on the Atlantic Ocean or Carribean, to Charlotte Amalie (the capital city of USVI), cruise ships, ...). I wasn't on St. Thomas long enough to become expert in the local transit system, but I thoroughly enjoyed the trips I took on the Sarafis. The large ones had five rows of seats only accessible from the driver's side of the vehicle (which is on the left, but the vehicles drive on the left side of the road so this is the curb side). Nobody seemed to mind that passengers had to climb over each other getting on and off the Safari. I found the whole experience positive and had interesting conversations with folks I climbed over.

The photos here were taken pretty much at random to show the similarities and differences among the Safaris. The fare was typically one or two dollars depending on distance traveled, and the time between Safaris was only about 10 minutes during most of the day. Headways were longer in the evening and Safaris stopped running at about 8:00 pm. I was on vacation so I have no idea how early they started from personal experience. The challenge for me was finding a Safari going where I wanted to go. Routes were not posted on the vehicles so I found I had to ask each driver if they were going where I wanted to go. I can't imagine how people who spoke languages alien to the drivers could use public transportation.

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