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Caribbean Islands-Transportation and Communications

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Caribbean Islands Index

Jamaica's physical infrastructure developed primarily in response to the demands of the sugar and bauxite industries. The country's geography, especially its mountainous terrain, directly affected both the development of a transport network and integration of the economy. Because of the central corridor of mountains, the island's roads were generally divided between north and south, winding along the various ports on the island's coast. As late as the 1880s, it was still cheaper to send goods within Jamaica by sea rather than by land because of the mountains. Eventually, north-south roads were constructed, passing through the scenic heights of the rising interior. Although north-south roads improved island-wide transportation considerably, even in the 1980s a 198-kilometer drive from Montego Bay to Kingston required about 4 hours, compared with an air passage of only 20 minutes.

Jamaica contained over 12,360 kilometers of roads in the mid1980s ; of that total, nearly 40 percent were paved. Roads were originally built on the paths of least resistance, along the coastlines, rivers, and mountains. As such, winding, narrow, and mountainous roadways were common. Road maintenance presented a nagging political and economic problem, as the tropical sun and seasonal rains quickly deteriorated roads, making potholes common.

In 1985 there were over 70,400 certified vehicles on the road, of which 60 percent were cars, 33 percent trucks or buses, and 7 percent motorcycles. Many vehicles, especially in rural areas, operated unlicensed. Taxis, numerous in most major towns, were cheap and generally offered unmetered rates, frequently negotiated by the driver and passenger.

Bus service was most extensive in Kingston, where in 1985 the buses carried more than 247 million passengers. Bus service was divested from government ownership to ten franchises in Kingston during the 1980s; this move was widely perceived to have greatly improved efficiency. Nevertheless, private bus companies were criticized for pirating routes, not completing less popular routes, disregarding passenger comfort by overcrowding, and showing reluctance to transport lower fare passengers such as children and the handicapped. Almost all rural buses and many urban buses were mini-buses or mini-vans. In rural areas passengers on mini-buses entered and exited anywhere along a given route. Buses were typically overcrowded and in need of some repair. In addition, private charter buses were operated for the tourist industry.

Jamaica has the oldest colonial railroad in the world. Established in 1843 by the Jamaican Railway Company, the rail system was subsequently expanded, improved, and eventually sold to the government. The rail system covered 340 kilometers of tracks by the 1980s. The principal route was from Montego Bay to Kingston passing through the heart of rural Jamaica. In the 1950s and 1960s, bauxite companies built small, unconnected rail lines to their major ports at Discovery Bay, Ocho Rios, Port Antonio, Rocky Point, and Port Kaiser. The rail system was run by the government-owned Jamaica Railway Corporation, which generally operated at a loss in the 1980s.

Extensive airfields existed for such a small country. These included two international airports--the Norman W. Manley International Airport at Kingston and the Donald Sangster Airport at Montego Bay--and scores of small airfields, both publicly and privately owned. Some small airfields were paved with asphalt or concrete, but most were grass airstrips. In the 1980s, the government was constantly closing clandestine airstrips used in marijuana trafficking, although these were frequently reopened illegally.

Jamaica's vibrant tourist industry accounted for most of the 2.38-million passenger movements recorded in 1985, ranking it seventh in the world in air traffic with the United States. Thirtyfive thousand aircraft movements were recorded at the Norman W. Manley International Airport compared with 24,300 at Donald Sangster Airport; the latter, however, received more passengers. Trans Jamaica Airlines Ltd. and various other private carriers serviced intra-island flights. The government-owned airline, Air Jamaica, was well established and profitable and operated a fleet of Boeing 727 jets servicing ten international routes. Major Caribbean, European, and American airlines made stops in Jamaica.

Numerous ports were found around the island; Kingston, the central shipping facility, possessed one of the ten largest natural harbors in the world. The port of Kingston covered over sixteen kilometers of usable waterfront, comprising eleven commercial wharves, deep-water loading facilities, a container terminal, and other modern infrastructure. Virtually all the country's imports entered through Kingston; less than 10 percent of exports left from the port, however. Exports were often shipped from first-class ports such as Falmouth, Port Antonio, Port Morant, Portland Bight, and Savanna-la-Mar as well as second-class ports in Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, Discovery Bay, St. Ann's Bay, Black River, and others. Some ports concentrated on only one or two exports, depending on the region. Over 2,100 ships and vessels made port calls to Jamaica during 1985, representing scores of shipping lines. Jamaica was also affiliated with the regional organization, the West Indies Shipping Corporation (Wisco--see Appendix C). Only two inland rivers, the Rio Grande and Black River, were deep and long enough to be viable transport routes. A major goal of sea transport in the 1980s was port facility upgrading to accommodate growing cruise ship arrivals.

The government-owned Jamaica Telephone Company operated a fully automatic telephone network that included over 143,000 phones in 1985. Sixty-three percent of all phones were located in businesses, and 37 percent in residences. Phone failures were common and in 1985 over 60,000 consumers were awaiting phone service. Submarine cables to the United States, Panama, and the Cayman Islands provided direct service with those countries or territories. An International Telecommunications Satettile Corporation (INTELSAT) Standard A earth station provided international telephone services, controlled by the government-owned Jamintel. Jamintel, formerly owned by Cable and Wireless, also provided telegraph, telex, and other major telecommunications services. Over 300 telegraph offices were located island-wide. Mail service was available from over 300 post offices, nearly 500 postal agencies, and several subagencies. Mail service was slow, and former "Royal Mail" trucks were still in operation.

Jamaica's mass media included one television station, two major radio stations, and two daily newspapers. Television was operated by the government-run Jamaica Broadcast Corporation (JBC), whose programming was often the source of derisive newspaper editorials. The government announced in 1987 that it would privatize the public media, and many Jamaicans were in favor of a nongovernmental television station. Because of the poor television service, wealthier Jamaicans bought satellite dishes. Both major radio stations, the JBC and Radio Jamaica (RJR), received government financing. Most listeners tuned into RJR on the AM dial, aired twenty-four-hours a day via four regional transmitters. Other small radio stations were also in operation during the 1980s. Radio programs were frequently educational and developmental. Some 750,000 radios were in use island-wide during the 1980s.

The major daily newspaper circulated in Jamaica was the Daily Gleaner, an independent newspaper founded by Jewish immigrants in 1834. The Daily Gleaner's daily circulation was 45,000 and 95,000 on Sundays. Although formally independent, the Daily Gleaner was generally perceived as conservative and pro-JLP. The other newspaper was the afternoon tabloid, the Star.

Data as of November 1987

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