Licensed taxis – called ‘contract carriages’ – have red PPV license plates (those without such plates are unlicensed). They’re expensive, but affordable if you share the cost with other passengers.
Jamaica Union of Travelers Association operates island-wide and is geared almost exclusively to the tourist business. Kingston has a number of private radio taxi firms.
The Transport Authority has established fixed rates according to distance (different rates apply for locals than for tourists, who pay more). Licensed cabs should have these posted inside. Taxis are also supposed to have meters, but many don’t use them.
The following are typical fares, based on up to four people per taxi:
|Montego Bay–Ocho Rios or Negril||US$100|
|Norman Manley International Airport–Kingston (Uptown)||US$35|
|Donald Sangster International Airport–Montego Bay||US$20|
Kingston’s municipal bus system (www.jutc.com) operates a fleet of large yellow buses. Buses stop only at official stops. Fares are J$100, but students, children, disabled passengers and pensioners pay half fare.
An extensive transportation network links virtually every village and comprises several options that range from standard public buses to private taxis, with minibuses and route taxis in between.
There is usually no set timetable – buses leave when the driver considers them full – and passengers are crammed in with little regard for comfort. Taxis and buses tend to fill quickly early in the morning (before 8am) and around 5pm as people depart for work or home. There are fewer public transport options on Sunday.
Public buses, minibuses and route taxis depart from and arrive at each town’s transportation station, which is usually near the main market. Locals can direct you to the appropriate vehicle, which should have its destination marked above the front window (for buses) or on its side.
Large buses are few and far between in Jamaica due to the narrow twisting roads. Throughout the island there are bus stops at most road intersections along routes, but you can usually flag down a bus anywhere except in major cities. If the bus doesn't have a bell to indicate when you want to get off, shout out 'let down' or 'one stop' to the driver.
Knutsford Express operates big comfortable, air-conditioned coaches and covers most destinations. Sample fares/times are Kingston–Ocho Rios (J$1850, two hours), Kingston–Montego Bay (J$2950, four hours). Online booking is available, along with student, senior and child fares.
Taking public transportation is terrifically inexpensive. Buses and minibuses charge in the neighborhood of J$100 per 50km, and route taxis charge about J$150 to J$250 per 50km, with short rides of around 10 minutes costing J$100. As an example of longer routes, at the time of writing a coaster from Kingston to Port Antonio (two hours) cost J$600.
Private minibuses, also known as ‘coasters,’ have traditionally been the workhorses of Jamaica’s regional public transportation system. All major towns and virtually every village in the country are served.
Licensed minibuses display red license plates with the initials PPV (public passenger vehicle) or have a JUTA (Jamaica Union of Travelers Association) insignia. JUTA buses are exclusively for tourists. Public coasters don't run to set timetables, but depart their point of origin when they’re full. They’re often overflowing, and the drivers seem to have death wishes.
Communal route taxis are the most universal mode of public transportation, reaching every part of the country. They run on set routes, picking up as many people as they can along the way. They're very convenient and are a cheap way of getting around the island. Simply pick them up at their terminal in town (they go when full), or flag them down on the road and tell the driver where you want to get off. If you get in an empty taxi – particularly at the taxi station – be clear if you just want to pay the regular fare instead of a charter.
Most route taxis are white station wagons marked by their red license plates. They should have ‘Route Taxi’ marked on the front door, and they are not to be confused with similar licensed taxis, which charge more. Avoid any taxi that lacks the red license plate.