On the islands
Taxis are ordinary passenger cars, without any special marking. However, their number plate starts with the letter “H”. They can be found at taxi stands, which can be located on a street corner or at the side of the road. Taxi ranks in cities and districts are usually marked, but not outside the city. However, you can hail a taxi at the side of the road and ask for the destination and fare before taking the taxi. You pay for an individual seat and taxis are shared, but you can hire a whole car if you wish and if there are not many passengers waiting. Airport taxis are an exception to this rule as you almost always have to hire the whole car.
There are larger taxis, called “maxi taxis” or simply “maxis”, which follow a specific route. They look like minibuses and are painted white or beige with a coloured stripe. Each maxi can usually hold about 11 or 25 passengers. The colour of the stripe indicates the area in which they operate. They have their own taxi ranks and terminals. In Port of Spain, the maxis leave and arrive at the City Gate Terminal, and in San Fernando they leave and arrive at the King’s Wharf Bus Terminal. These maxi-taxis go to the eastern, southern and central areas of the island. To get to the west, there are a few designated spots, such as the Diego Martin/Petit Valley/Carenage/Chagaramas maxi taxi station, which is a few miles from the City Gate. If you wish, you can hire a maxi-taxi for a full day as part of a charter trip. This can be negotiated directly with the maxi taxi drivers in advance. Prices vary.
Gypsy taxis are also available. They are known locally as “PH” as they are private cars used illegally for hire. Be careful as “PH” drivers have been linked to crimes such as murders, kidnappings and robberies and they are not insured for passengers.
A few tips
- All taxi rides must be paid for in cash in TT dollars. Some drivers accept US dollars, Canadian dollars or Euros, but they may not give you a favourable exchange rate. You can ask for your fare in advance. In maxi-taxis, you pay the driver, or the driver if there is no driver. Tipping is not expected, except for airport taxis. However, if you are feeling generous, you can tip if you wish. Taxi drivers do not usually issue receipts.
- If you deviate from the usual route (usually the main road), inform the taxi driver before you get in. Some may not want to go off the main road because of crime or bad roads. If you don’t inform them in advance, they may drop you off at a place near your destination and you may have to walk. Maxi taxis do not usually deviate from the intended route, but some will ask passengers if it is possible to take an alternative route if there is too much traffic. If you have any doubt that the maxi taxi will miss your destination, ask the driver.
- Avoid looking for a taxi or maxi during rush hour (AM and PM, but PM is worse). Taxi ranks tend to be crowded and other people may hail the taxi before the taxi rank. The result is that the taxi is full before it reaches the station and the waiting time can be extremely long.
- Some maxi-taxi and taxi drivers want to put more passengers than the legal number in the vehicle. This is a dangerous and illegal practice as none of the passengers are covered by insurance if the maxi taxi is overloaded and has an accident. Politely refuse or at least know what you are risking.
- If your taxi or maxi is involved in an accident, report it to the police as soon as possible to protect your rights. Taxi drivers are obliged to carry insurance for all passengers. Police reports can be made in person at the relevant police station. Ask a local resident. They will know. If you or someone else needs immediate medical attention, call 999 or 990.
- Some taxi ranks fill taxis from the back to the front. This practice is more common in cities and towns.
- To stop a maxi-taxi while it is on board (i.e. at your destination), press the stop button. Sometimes they are not marked, but maxi-taxis are required by law to have them.
- Smoking in public buildings is prohibited by law.
The buses are operated by the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC), which is owned by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. Buses and bus tickets are available at City Gate in Port-of-Spain, King’s Wharf in San Fernando and at various other terminals and bus stops. A ticket is required to board the bus. Bus drivers do not accept cash or credit cards. www]
With the ferry
On the island of Trinidad, an inland ferry now runs between the two main towns of Port-of-Spain in the north and San Fernando in the south. The ferry ride between the two destinations takes about 45 minutes and a single ticket costs TT$15 (about US$2.50).
Car rentals are common and driving is left-handed (British style). There are several car rental companies, including international chains such as Budget and Hertz. There are also local companies such as Auto Rentals, Kalloo’s and many others. It is best to book a car in advance. However, a car can be rented at the airport upon arrival. Rental car number plates are usually marked with an “R” (for “Rental”) as the initial letter. Some people rent cars with number plates marked with the letter “P” (Private), but this practice is illegal and it is better to rent a car with an “R” plate. However, it is increasingly common for criminals to target car rental drivers, as many locals seem to believe that all foreigners are rich. Therefore, more and more car rental companies are equipping their vehicles with “P” plates in the hope of hiding the fact that it is actually a rental car.
Road conditions and traffic
Beware of drivers who do not obey the traffic rules. They may not stop at red lights and turn unexpectedly. If you are used to driving only on the right (USA, Canada, Europe), seriously consider not driving at all. Drive to stay alive. If you foresee the possibility of an inconvenience, especially if it could develop into an incident of road rage, avoid it.
Speed limits are in force (80 km/h on motorways) but are rarely enforced. Many road signs are old and poorly visible and distances are given in kilometres. If you can drive well, it is fun to enjoy the roads, especially late at night or early in the morning. Avoid speeding at all times on major roads during rush hour or around Queen’s Park Savannah. Otherwise, the chances of you being pulled over are almost nil.
Although you will see many drivers doing this, it is illegal to turn left on red (which is equivalent to turning right on red in countries with left-hand traffic like the USA). Turning manoeuvres are also prohibited.
Taxis, and especially maxi-taxis, are associated with many road accidents and deaths. They often stop unannounced to pick up or drop off passengers, make risky manoeuvres and generally drive recklessly. Although these behaviours are illegal, the police do not seem to care, except for occasional spot checks and roadblocks. Police action regarding maxi-taxis and taxis usually occurs when they cause serious traffic problems. In this case, it is not unusual for the police and the city to move maxi-taxis.
People also park in the middle of the road where there is no shoulder. Wait until the oncoming lane is clear and then drive around the parked car.
In more populated areas, such as the cities of Port of Spain and San Fernando, watch out for pedestrians as pedestrian crossings are the norm. Pedestrian traffic lights are few and far between. Also, in most cases you have to press the button. Most people don’t bother and just wait until traffic is clear or walk across the road. Be careful because if you hit a pedestrian, whether they are crossing the road illegally or not, you are more likely to get into trouble than if you hit a car.
Time and distance
If you plan to go to the other side of the island (Trinidad), start early and plan for the whole day, with nothing important planned for late afternoon. Although the island is not huge, it can take longer than you think to get anywhere. With the influx of used cars from Asia (known locally as “foreign used cars”) and the growing economy, more people than ever own cars. As a result, traffic jams are not uncommon, especially when driving to Port of Spain.
Transport between the islands
There are two ways to travel between Trinidad and Tobago – by ferry and by plane.
Air travel costs TT$300 (US$50) round trip or TT$150 one way per person. There are twelve flights per day. Flight time is approximately 25 minutes each way. Caribbean Airlines (http://www.caribbean-airlines.com) offers this service.
There are two types of ferry services: fast and conventional.
The ferry fare is TT$50 for the outward journey and TT$100 for the return journey. The ships are the T&T Express and the T&T Spirit, both owned by the Trinidad and Tobago Port Authority. The trip takes about 2.75 hours. The Express is the faster of the two ships, but the Spirit is newer and has better facilities.
The conventional ferry trip costs TT$37.50 one-way and TT$75 return, but the journey takes about 5.5 hours. The ships are the MF Panorama and the Warrior Spirit.
Vehicles can be transported on the ferry, but there are different charges depending on size and weight. A return journey by private car costs TT$ 350, which includes the cost of the driver. It is unlikely that you will be able to pick up a rental car on the ferry, as you will need to present the vehicle documents.
From 1 November 2009, only same-day tickets can be purchased at the ferry terminals in Port of Spain and Scarborough. For advance purchase, you will need to buy tickets from selected travel agents – tickets sell out quickly at peak times, especially for vehicles. Ferry and travel agency timetables can be found on the Port Authority website [www] .