Imagine this: you’re at the Transport Centre in Half Way Tree waiting on a 72 bus to take you to Mona. As you wait at the correct terminal, the bus in front of you, a 75 going to Papine, departs the Transport Centre at its scheduled time, allowing the bus behind it, a 70, to move towards the front. Directly behind this bus comes the 72. When the 72 finally parks, the driver opens the door and and the waiting passengers, who have already begun to form the queue to enter the bus, start to enter.
You enter the bus, hand over your ticket or Smart Card to the driver, she inspects the ticket or swipes your card, hands back the ticket to you with a little tear to show that it was inspected, or the Smart Card with your receipt, and you find your way to a seat, awaiting your AC-comfort drive to your destination, the University of the West Indies (UWI).
Do you suspect anything different about this average commuter’s experience? Nope. However, if you were in 1969 Jamaica, or before then, this experience would’ve left you with your mouth open in utter shock, and your eyes about to pop out of their sockets, with thoughts of possibly exiting the bus to wait on another one passing through your head!
Why? Because you were about to be driven by a woman bus driver.
First Woman Bus Driver in Jamaica’s History
While it is quite common today to see women among the fleet of bus drivers of the state-owned and managed bus company, the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC), back in 1969, when the Jamaica Omnibus Services (JOS) Limited was around, this was not the case.
The JOS began operations in 1954, until its operations were wound up in 1983, and was the central operator and manager of public passenger transportation in the Kingston Metropolitan Transport Region (KMTR) (Transport Authority). In 1969, they were in need of more bus drivers for their fleet; and so they placed their vacancy announcement in the papers of the day. A Mrs Dorothy Ebanks (now Mrs Dorothy Ebanks-Rowe) saw this vacancy notice in the newspaper and, not seeing any restrictions in terms of sex, she applied for the job.
According to Mrs Ebanks-Rowe, when she was interviewed by the Jamaica Gleaner in May 2007: “I didn’t think it was odd but other people, they were shocked. They said I couldn’t drive a bus so don’t bother with it. I tell them that anything the men can do, I can do it too” (Gleaner, Monday, March 12, 2007).
It seemed the JOS deliberately did not place any sex restrictions on the vacancy as the company was short of drivers, and Mrs Ebanks was the start of a JOS experiment. If the experiment worked, she would be taken on “as a JOS driver with the same conditions of service as male drivers” (Daily Gleaner, Saturday, July 19, 1969, pg. 4) and “to attract more qualified women as drivers” (The Daily Gleaner, Friday, August 15, 1969, pg.1).
So she submitted her application and, having all the qualifications that the JOS asked for – “must have a private driver’s licence for at least five years; a CMC licence for at least two years; or at least one year heavy duty driving experience” (The Daily Gleaner, Saturday, July 19, 1969, pg. 4) – she got the job. Mrs. Ebanks earned her private driver’s license when she was eighteen, and had a CMC license plus the requisite experience, as she used to drive a minibus, and sometimes a truck, delivering food stuff from St. Elizabeth (Gleaner, Monday, March 12, 2007).
Read All About It! JOS Hires First Woman Bus Driver!
Of course, the excitement surrounding a woman applying for a bus driving job began the day she arrived for the interview at the JOS office, continued during her six weeks of the JOS’ driver training course, and into her first day as a JOS bus driver.
According to Mrs. Ebanks-Rowe, when she arrived for the interview: “I was the only woman there among about 20 men. When we were going up the stairs, all the workers stopped work and came to look because they heard that a woman was coming for an interview” (Gleaner, Monday, March 12, 2007).
The Daily Gleaner made sure all of Jamaica knew that the JOS had hired a woman bus driver with the following [excited] headline for their article on this new development, which appeared on page 1 of their paper for Saturday, July 19, 1969:
You might read the first paragraph and be wondering why all the excitement; but remember, this was never seen before!
Of course, the Gleaner made sure to follow up on this story and, on Thursday, August 14, 1969, when Mrs Ebanks began working as a full fledged bus driver for the JOS on route 10, between Down Town and Jack’s Hill, after successfully completing the six weeks JOS bus driver training course, they were there to see her off:
The JOS had previously sent out a press release announcing “that Mrs. Ebanks was considered by instructors at the JOS Driver Training School as “above average” and that she completed the six week course “which is on par with the better drivers who are currently employed by the company” (The Daily Gleaner, Friday, August 15, 1969, pg. 1).
Of course, the public’s reaction was what was expected: shock, awe and, of course, some very sceptical male commuters.
The Gleaner did a follow up story on Mrs. Ebanks seven months after she began working full time as a JOS bus driver in The Sunday Gleaner’s Sunday Magazine for April 5, 1970, pp. 1 & 11: “Seven Months .. Still Going Strong: Jolly J’s Woman at the Wheel:”
Mrs. Ebanks-Rowe remained with the JOS for six years.
Until next time…
The Daily Gleaner, Saturday, July 19, 1969
The Daily Gleaner, Friday, August 15, 1969
The Sunday Gleaner, Sunday Magazine, April 5, 1970, pp. 1 & 11