Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Service Change: Bermuda, Part 1 - 1 (Hamilton - St. George via Tucker's Point and The Caves), 10 (Hamilton - St. George via Palmetto Road and Aquarium), 11 (Hamilton - St. George via Blackwatch Pass and Aquarium), and the St. George Bus Depot

My family has been going to Bermuda every year for the past 12 years. The fact that such a tropical setting exists just a two hour flight away from Boston is very enticing. We didn't go last year, instead opting for Orlando, so I was more than excited to get back to our old stomping ground. Now, I'm more than aware that this is the longest post title in the blog's history, but we took a lot of buses, and I want to get this done in two parts (hopefully). Okay? Okay.

For such a small island (21 square miles), Bermuda's system of eleven bus routes is surprisingly efficient. That said, four are considered useless to the average tourist (and pretty useless in general - the 5, for example, is about 1.25 miles long, with only about a thousand feet not shared with another route), causing their schedules to be omitted from the "Visitor's Guide" paper maps.

All of the routes except one originate at the Hamilton Bus Terminal (more on that in Part 2). For eleven years, we thought this was the only place you could get tickets, but it turns out you can also obtain them from local post offices. The ticketing system is anything but simple. The island is split into 14 zones, each of which is two miles long. When buying tickets, you have the option between 3 Zone and 14 Zone tickets. 3 Zone tickets allow you to travel three zones, obviously, while 14 Zone tickets allow you to take a bus as far as you want.

If you're paying cash, it'll do a number on your wallet. Adult fares are $3 for 3 zones and $4.50 for 14 zones, while children under 16 get a flat fare of $2.50. You can also get tokens, which soften the blow slightly by dropping the rates by $0.50. They say that passes are cheapest way to get around, but with a 7 day one costing $56.00, you would have to ride more than three zones 13 times for it to pay off.

We find that it's much easier to buy books of paper tickets. For some reason they don't mention these in the Visitor's Guide - you can get a book of 15 3 zone tickets for $20 (so $1.33 per ticket - two 3 zone tickets equals one 14 zone ticket), and 15 14 zone tickets for $30 ($2 per ticket). Books of student tickets, which apply for all zones, only cost $7.50 - $0.50 per ticket! Something the Visitor's Guide also doesn't mention is transfers: if you're changing over to another route, you can ask the driver for one and get on the next bus for free.

That's not to say they make sense, but they're quite useful.
Okay, you know a ticket system is overly complicated when it takes three paragraphs to explain it. Luckily, we had some left over from the last time we had come to the island, so we could take the bus from the airport to where we were staying in St. George (about a 10 minute ride). After a relatively short wait, an 11 came along.

Most of the 11's route is shared with the 10, except for a short section near Hamilton. It also runs more often than the 10 (more in a second), and its individual portion is more interesting (it goes on the cool-sounding Blackwatch Pass, which cuts right through a rock gorge). On Mondays-Saturdays, it runs every 15 minutes, except on the .15 when a 10 runs in its place, until 11:45. On Sundays it drops down to every hour, ending at 10:45. However, the Sunday schedule is pretty ingenious: each of the four Hamilton - St. George buses runs every hour, but it's coordinated so it's actually every 15 minutes! Of course, the routes split eventually, but if you have to ride from end to end it's great.

The first thing you notice is the striking pink color each bus is painted. It was apparently inspired by a postcard of a house in Bermuda, of all things. You can always tell what year the bus was imported in by looking at the license plate: if it was ordered before the millennium, the license plate shows the year, then the number. 9804, for example, would be the fourth bus ordered in 1998. If it was ordered in the 2000s, the license plate goes 2K+Year+Number. So 2K705 would be the fifth bus ordered in 2007, for example.

I can't tell what year the bus we rode was ordered in, since the license plate is covered by a bush in the picture I took of it. However, it's a Berkhof bus (I have a book about the bus system, so I know these things), so it must have been fairly old. I'm going to save the description of the ride from the airport for later, since every other St. George to Hamilton bus does it. But here are the pictures I took during the 11 ride, as well as all of the 11's I saw. It's a lot of pictures.

The bus at the airport.
The interior, looking towards the front. As you can see, it was fairly crowded.
On the older buses, there's a really satisfying "ding" noise when someone requests a stop.
A bus in St. George.
And another.
And another.
And another.
Sensing a pattern here?
This is actually near the Grotto Bay hotel, further away from St. George.
And again.
Back in St. George.
Near Grotto Bay again.
St George.
And again.
And again.
Once more.
Surprisingly, we never took the 11 from St. George to Hamilton. We did end up taking a 10 back from Hamilton, though. We had just gotten off of an 8 (more about that in Part 2), and the crowd to get onto the 10 was huge. The driver insisted on "ladies first," which although he had good manners (most people in Bermuda do - you can always tell the locals apart from the tourists because they always say hello to you), it complicated things a bit. Women in the crowd had to push and shove their way to the doors, including my mother.

The crowd at the Hamilton Bus Terminal (more about the terminal in Part 2).
As for the men, we had to stand, of course. The bus was so crowded that the driver had to leave people behind. "I can't drive if people are past the white line," he said. "The bus isn't supposed to be this crowded." So why were so many people riding? I have no idea.

This wasn't the 10 that we took, but it was just hanging out at the terminal.
We navigated our way up Cedar Ave, hitting red lights and contending with city traffic (however, Hamilton is one of the world's smallest capital cities, with only 1800 people living in it). Cedar Ave became Marsh Folly Road, and from there it got rural pretty quickly. We went by a small sports complex, the 11 route breaking off at Blackwatch Pass, and then houses came up.

Marsh Folly Road became Palmetto Road, and it got rural once again. According to my mother we went by the central bus depot along here, but she had a comfortable seat and could pay attention to the views, whereas I was just trying to hold on.

The bus we were on was a Goppel, which are newer and more modern then the Berkhofs. This one was from 2007. This bus, and most Bermuda buses for that matter, had a pole on the front. This is used for...deflecting palm trees. Yeah, Bermuda's roads are kind of narrow. The overall layout of the seats are about the same as the Berkhofs, but they're more cushioned and therefore comfortable in the Goppels. Unfortunately, instead of the cool stop request bell that plays in the Berkhofs, the Goppels just have a robotic buzz. There is a convenient clock next to the stop request sign, though.

The driver seems to be looking at me funny...
I also noticed that the buses have paper signs up front saying who's driving. Some of the drivers even make logos for themselves, like the one on this particular bus. It certainly beats "This bus is driven by operator 60337," like you get here. None of Bermuda's buses have stop announcements, though.

I love that!
Anyway, Palmetto Road soon merged with North Shore Road and we rejoined the 11 route. Both buses run on North Shore Road from here on out. It was all houses, some close and some far apart. We were also right next to the ocean, but I don't remember any particularly good views on this stretch.

Never look directly at the sun - it makes for a pretty bad picture, like this one.
Soon some restaurants came up. We were in Flatt's Village, and this was where we were getting off to have dinner. After a great outdoor meal at Rustico, an Italian restaurant, we went back to wait for the bus. Another 10 came along soon, and it was mercifully less crowded. North Shore Road curved around before we went past the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum, and Zoo (a fantastic experience, particularly the zoo where peacocks roam free).

After Flatt's, it went back to being mixtures of suburban and rural. We stayed fairly close to the ocean the whole time, but there weren't too many views. There was a rotary, and we merged with the 1 and the 3 buses, heading onto Blue Hole Hill. This soon became The Causeway, a huge isthmus that goes to St. George's Island. The views here are gorgeous, as you would expect.

The view from the Causeway looks very serene in the sunset.
We then went around a rotary onto Cahow Way, which leads to the airport. We went through the arrivals area, then looped around to the official stop. I'm not sure why buses don't stop directly at the terminals, but...that's how it is, I suppose. We went back to the rotary on Cahow Way, and continued straight onto Kindley Field Road. This throughway runs along the perimeter of the airport. But why is there a bus shelter - a shelter - along this stretch? There's nothing! It's just a big barbed wire fence! There was also a useless shelter - yes, a shelter - on the rotary from the Causeway.

Seriously, why would anyone ever use that shelter?
There was another rotary at the end of Kindley Field Road, but instead of going onto Mullet Bay Road toward St. George, we first made a stop outside of an ice cream shop. Yes, there's a random ice cream shop here in the middle of nowhere. But the weirdest part is that this stop is really popular! This stop can empty out anywhere from a quarter to half the passengers on the bus!

The view from the Mullet Bay Road bridge.
We then looped back around to Mullet Bay Road and crossed over a bridge, now joined by the 6 bus from St. David's. The very twisty road offered great views of St. George's harbor.

The view of the harbor.
Mullet Bay Road soon became York Street, and we were in downtown St. George. Unlike Hamilton, which was a planned city and has a grid layout for its streets, St. George was a much older town (the oldest in the western hemisphere, in fact - much of the 17th century architecture still exists today) and developed organically. This means a lot of winding, narrow alleys, not unlike the layout of downtown Boston. As such, the buses are limited to the wider York Street, but it's pretty much the "main drag" of the town. The buses terminate a ways past St. George to get to the depot, but almost everyone always gets off at the main stop downtown. It's not much, but a convenient staircase takes people down to the pedestrian-only touristy area.


The bus station.

The 10 - a 2008 Goppel - in St. George.
A convenient luggage rack inside the bus.
The inside of the bus.
An artsy-looking picture of the stop request button.
The 10 at the airport.
Once a year, there is an agricultural fair (or "Ag Fair" to the locals) at the Botanical Gardens near Hamilton. The mix of farm animals, children's projects from all the schools on the island, and of course, prize-winning fruits and vegetables make for a great time. To get there from St. George, you have to take the 1.

When you glance at the paper map, the 1's schedule looks pretty awful: every hour, with service ending at the abominable time of 4 PM. When you look below the schedule, though, bold print tells you that the bus also leaves for Grotto Bay at .45 past the hour, ending at 5:45. Half hour service isn't that bad, but 5:45? How are people along the route supposed to go out and have fun? And why would they terminate half the buses at Grotto Bay, in the middle of nowhere? Those buses are always empty but the St. George-bound ones are always packed! But it gets worse...

Checking my schedule, the bus was scheduled to leave the St. George Bus Depot at 1:52, so it would probably arrive at the central station at about 2:00 (it's supposed to take five minutes, but the buses are always late). Soon it was 2:10, and our bus hadn't come. In fact, no buses had come in either direction. Well, turns out there was an unannounced union meeting that day and the buses weren't running! Read: unannounced. No signs, nothing. I know it's not the most sophisticated transit system, but if the whole thing's shutting down I think there should be some forewarning. At 2:20 a 1 came along. I guess the meeting was over.

Finally!
It was pretty crowded, due to the long wait time because of the meeting. We took the same route as all the other buses out of St. George, heading to the ice cream shop and the airport before going over the Causeway. Instead of going onto North Shore Road, though, we headed down Wilkinson Ave, along with the 3 route. We then turned onto Harrington Sound Road, with scenic views of - yes, you guessed it - Harrington Sound. Remember how I mentioned how the poles on the front of most of the buses are used to deflect palm trees? Well, they certainly must come in handy here, as those trees were literally slapping the windows of the bus.

Two views of Harrington Sound.
Soon the bus turned onto Paynters Road, leaving the 3. We went through a huge golf course, bypassing Tucker's Point every time (where the 1 is apparently supposed to detour to serve that area). We turned onto South Road, but buses heading to St. George take a detour first. They continue down South Road (before turning onto Paynters Road), then turn onto Mid Ocean Drive. This takes the bus through a strange area with frequent speed bumps, before reaching a hotel. Buses have to u-turn here, but because of their size (I would say they're the biggest vehicles on the island) they have to reverse a few times.

The golf course.
I find it weird that they only do that going to St. George, as Hamilton is obviously the more desirable destination. The one time people got on here (we rode the 1 twice in both directions), they got off in the middle of the golf course upon finding out that Hamilton-bound buses don't serve the hotel.

So we continued down South Road for a while, getting back into more residential areas, offering great views of the ocean. All of a sudden, we turned onto Harrington Hundreds Road, a somewhat steep hill, before turning again onto Knapton Hill. There's actually an interchange with the 3 here, but there are no formal shelters or anything.

Knapton Hill turned back into South Road, and we went through a somewhat rural area. Soon, though, we turned onto Sayle Road, heading up a steep hill. This is Collector's Hill, a residential neighborhood with a great view of the ocean. There's also a museum here, the Verdmont Museum, which is an old house.

The lovely view.
We turned onto Verdmont Road, which became Collector's Hill, then we turned back onto South Road. There was a gas station and a supermarket at this junction, surprisingly. It went back to being rural from there, with occasional residential areas. The bus turned onto Point Finger Road, and the driver told the people going to the Ag Fair to get off here. We were right in front of the hospital (yes, the hospital, not a hospital), a somewhat tall building that was being worked on at the time. We all made our way to the Botanical Gardens and the Ag Fair.

The 1 in St. George.
This is at Grotto Bay.
As is this.
Back in St. George.
There was so much traffic because of the Ag Fair! The bus appears to be stuck at the stop.
The 1 from over a stone wall.
Near the Botanical Gardens.
I wonder what that person's inquiring about.
These are the sort of bus stops you see a lot in Bermuda. This one's near the Botanical Gardens.
This is the classic Bermuda bus shelter. Most of them look like this.
Finally, there's the St. George Bus Depot. This is where the buses all terminate, and it's somewhat out of the way. We decided to take a little walk up Mullet Bay Road to see what it was like. Here are some of the beautiful views from the walk:

A neighborhood a little outside the town. Notice the sunken ship.
A view of an island.
An excellent view of the town.
This was actually on the other side of the town, but I decided to include it anyway.
We had to turn onto Old Military Road, and entered a pretty bad neighborhood. Locked-up preschools, a dodgy supermarket, and a lot of weird tenements. But we made it to the depot, and it was actually pretty interesting. It seemed like more of a layover point than anything, as most of the buses that were being stored were pretty old. Here are the pictures I took:

A 6, rounding the corner onto Mullet Bay Road.
Some buses lined up.
This is the official first stop of the St. George buses. It doesn't look too well used...
Another shot of the buses.
And another.
There was an empty shelter a little outside the depot that's not part of any routes.
Just coming in.
Once again, the buses lined up.
Again.
A front view of some of them.
So that's part 1 of my trip to Bermuda. In part 2: the Sea Express from St. George to Dockyard, on the other side of the island ("You gotta sea it!"), the 7 and the 8 from Dockyard to Hamilton, the Bermuda Railway Trail (yes, Bermuda once had a railway), and the Hamilton Bus Terminal. Hopefully it won't take as long to write as this did!

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