Are Bermuda Buses Limiting Cruise Passengers?

April 27, 2011

(3:42 p.m. EDT) -- For tourists navigating Bermuda, the island's public bus service is convenient and affordable. But are there problems ahead for cruisers?

A recent article in The Royal Gazette, a local Bermuda newspaper, says the number of cruise passengers allowed on each bus will be limited and monitored by a dispatcher to ensure there's room for locals.

According to the article, eastbound buses are often so full of cruise passengers heading to Horseshoe Bay or Hamilton that they completely bypass more rural stops where locals are waiting. The problem, the story continues, is magnified by budget constraints that require bus drivers to work weekends without overtime pay. That prompts some drivers to call in sick before their weekend shifts, leaving gaps in service that's already spread too thin.

Ellen-Kate Horton, permanent secretary for Bermuda's Ministry of Transport, told Cruise Critic in an e-mail that it's always been the case that dispatchers at the port have had the authority to limit cruise passengers on each bus. "This practice has always been in effect, and only occurs when we have cruise ships in port," she says. "During the summer months there is less demand from commuters, so more of the seats are allowed to be occupied by cruise ship visitors."

Horton also said that special shuttle buses, which offer direct service from King's Wharf to Horseshoe Bay Beach, are available to cruise passengers in an effort to supplement regular service. The shuttles, she says, are for cruise passengers only, and they don't leave until they're full.

The Gazette story concedes that a dispatcher has always been present at Dockyard, but it quotes Transport Minister Terry Lister as explaining that the dispatchers will now have the ability to count the number of passengers and deny boarding to nonresidents.

While there's some confusion over whether the dispatcher always had the power to prevent cruise passengers from boarding, we saw the policy in action firsthand during a Bermuda cruise two weeks ago. On the No. 7 bus route from King's Wharf's Royal Naval Dockyard to Horseshoe Bay, an official-looking gentleman cut the line off midway through boarding, even though there were plenty of unoccupied seats.

For passengers who've bought tickets or passes, this could be infuriating, particularly since buses run about 30 minutes apart, meaning that those who are denied boarding on half-full buses could face substantial wait times if no direct shuttle is on its way. Even more frustrating is a lack of other transportation options, save for expensive taxis, dangerous rental scooters and ferries that don't always run at convenient times.

Changes could be on the way, however. The Gazette article says the ministry hopes to hire 15 new drivers to beef up service, and Horton says dispatchers will be able to regulate more appropriately, based on the time of day, day of the week and radio communication between dispatchers and bus drivers, which will help them to determine the number of locals waiting at other stops along more popular routes.

We'll keep you updated.

--by Ashley Kosciolek, Copy Editor