What are Mini Buses and Carriers?
Viti Minis are basically minibuses (minivans) that can carry between 12 and 18 people. They typically operate along the designated Queen’s Highway route between Lautoka and Suva on the main island of Viti Levu. Passengers normally opt for minibuses over the standard bus network because they leave promptly (on busy routes and at peak times) and drive more quickly, giving shorter journey times. With the newer Toyota minibuses that have been introduced over the last few years offering air conditioning, more comfortable seating, and internal safety features, they bring to the fore all the incremental changes that have occurred over the last 60 years since the fleet of buses from the 1960s were launched.
You can find the main minibus depots in the cities of Lautoka, Nadi, and Suva, attached to the main bus stations in each of the respective towns. The older, unregulated, crowded minibuses of the past are a distant memory, but you can capture our historic account of one of those older bus journeys at the end of the article; it isn’t pretty.
Carriers – The brightly coloured tarps Carriers commonly seen on the road system of Fiji are freight-carrying pickups and light trucks with simple bench seats on either side of the loading platform, enabling them to carry passengers, freight, and luggage. Their natural ‘niche’ is on rural roads that are unsuitable for buses, and in such circumstances, they provide an invaluable transport system from villages to towns, where they can reach connecting transports such as the standard bus and taxi routes. Some carriers are typically owned by the village communities where they are based or by local businessmen, operating daily services between villages and urban markets. (See images below)
Licenced Viti mini-vans and carriers in Fiji can be distinguished by the colour of the registration plates, which are ‘Goldfinch’ yellow. They have a prefix of LM for the minibuses and LC for the carriers at the start of the registration number. This forces the operators to follow the regulations and legal safety standards followed by similar transport bodies.
Even though most of the staff, including myself, use these services weekly, we would not recommend using them as a primary means of transport when visiting Fiji. You will undoubtable notice these vans all across the road networks on Viti Levu, as they are a very popular source of transport for locals.
Over the last couple of years, the Viti mini bus and bus association has made massive strides in safety, quality of service, and professionalism of its staff and drivers, with a more structured and reliable turnaround timetable across the association.
As most travellers visiting Fiji stay for around 10 days, they will not normally need to use these kinds of services, as a more specialised tourism transfer market is available that is structured around catering specifically to your needs. If you are a long-term volunteer or ex-pat working in Fiji for an extended period of time, you will most probably find yourself using these once in a while, as they serve as a cheap and quick mode of transport between the two sides of the island.
Visitor Advisory 1: If you wish to be adventurous or wish to travel like the locals during your stay, we strongly suggest heeding these suggestions below.
- Do not travel if you have kids or young teenagers, as seatbelts are not typically worn.
- Do not travel during heavy rainfall or severe weather.
- Do not travel if you are at all slightly claustrophobic
- Do not travel at night, as the roads are poorly illuminated.
- Your insurance policy may be questioned if you travel in unregistered transport (Just be careful)
Visitor Advisory 2: If you’re not in a hurry, avoid boarding the van scheduled to depart in the next few minutes. Opt for the next available van, giving you the chance to select the front seats, known for their superior comfort and lack of baggage concerns.
Visitor Advisory 3: When seated in the main area at the back of the van, steer clear of the door. Typically, passengers in this spot are responsible for opening and closing it, a task often done incorrectly by others. Keep your fingers away from the door edges, as it closes firmly.
Visitor Advisory 4: Before embarking on the journey, ensure your trouser pockets are devoid of coins or valuables. The van’s movement, constant passenger activity, and notorious potholes can gradually displace small items. Multiple instances of lost valuables have occurred, so it’s crucial to heed this advice.
Visitor Advisory 5: If you find yourself waiting, secure your bag on your seat, take a moment to stretch your legs, and enjoy a refreshing drink of water. The interiors of these vans can heat up, even with air conditioning and open windows, especially when the sun is blazing. During the extended trip from Lautoka to Suva, the van makes a 5-minute stop in Sigatoka for a toilet break. Use this opportunity to stretch your legs, and inform the driver if you plan to return promptly.
Viti Mini Bus Fares
Historical Account of the Mini Bus Service
FJ Experience: Before this mode of transport was governmentally regulated these vehicles were like the wild west of Fiji. The drivers would systematically cram as many customers into the minivans as possible, with their luggage pushed into any available space under the seats and on people’s laps. Just picture a grandmaster playing a game of Tetris, with the blocks being the people and their personnel items and the van being the playing field. You will get a brief understanding of the dynamics at play. To make these journeys profitable and economical, the minivans did not leave the depot until all the available money-generating nooks and crannies’ were utilised.
Additional cargo was normally transported in the boot of the vehicle (this was normally an additional income stream for the driver, transporting vegetables and other goods between the two main cities). As soon as the van was properly packed and got the nod from the ticket master at the mini-van depot, he would set off like Road Runner, escaping the grasp of Wile E. Coyote. so they could make a minimum of three trips each day between Suva and Lautoka. (Each trip between Suva and Lautoka would take between 3 and 4 hours, so that would be a 12-hour shift.)
The minivan normally houses between 10 and 15 passengers; they would have one or two people in the front cabin of the van, sitting alongside the driver. with the remaining two dozen seats in the main interior of the van.
The van was typically furnished with sliding windows along the sides and several hand grips fixed firmly to the chassis. The seating was well cushioned, and some even had the luxury of seatbelts. The cabin dash board is typically adorned with some kind of religious paraphernalia, fluffy green carpet, or some L.E.D. lights pulsating to the ultra-deep base from the local music radio station; sometimes we felt this was to keep the driver awake when on his third and final journey of the day.
So if you were unlucky and never got the co-pilot seat at the front of the van, you will be packed into the back like sardines.
The three or four sliding perspex windows, located across the sides of the vehicle, were normally jammed open in a semi-permanent position, with many of the handles damaged and not functioning, not through use but through force of appliance by past passengers, as they all looked in good condition. (The reason for this became clear soon enough.) These wide open apertures, the only real connection to the outside world when the main cargo door slams shut, allowed the air to circulate around the small pockets of remaining available space within the van, a blessing I would be thankful for and not so thankful for during different eventful times on the journey.
If you were sitting right behind one of the open windows at the start of the journey, as you left the winding streets of the main city, a cool breeze would gently caress your face. You would immediately start questioning the people who spoke negatively about using the service with a naive smile on your face, thinking you knew better.
You would start settling in for the 4-hour journey down the coast when suddenly you would feel a violent gale equal to the intensity of the Concord taking flight at Nadi International Airport in 1985. Your cheeks would become bloated, mimicking a blowfish in defence mode. Your tear ducts and eye sockets would start watering like the Tavoro Waterfalls of Taveuni after a local downpour, with your whole body being sucked into the back of your padded seat.
What you had just experienced was the driver breaching the outer boundaries of the city and the start of the open road, known locally as the Queens Highway. From now onwards, you will experience moments of death-defying speeds, Formula 1 overtaking manoeuvres, and sudden slowing down to a mere walking pace as they enter small villages, where the local police have put road humps (sleeping policemen) to slow down the traffic.
This government intervention worked to some degree, with drivers speeding right up to the footing of the hump, suddenly applying the breaks, and carefully going over so as not to scrape the undercarriage of the vehicle because they were typically overloaded. As soon as the rear tyres of the minivan touched the top of the road hump, the driver would put his foot to the metal, until another sleeping policeman disrupted his pattern of driving again.
The main corners that make up the coast road are normally treated as mild inconveniences; they are used as catapultes, where they can just see far ahead to be safe, and as soon as they level out again, the miles per hour increase dramatically.
You could not help but get to know the people you were travelling with, as these could be the last people you see before your eventual demise, not to mention you were literally sitting on each other’s laps, shoulder blades interlocked, midriff firmly pushed up against the front-facing seat, and normally your legs touching or intertwined. As you were all in the same situation and you had paid for the experience, you simply made the most of it.
Occasionally, people would not make the full journey, departing at different points along the coast. When the sliding doors opened, a sense of relief could be seen across all the occupants faces. As the breeze entered the vehicle, the exiting passenger, with a typical dead leg, paid and thanked the driver. As soon as their buttocks left the seat, all the remaining passengers started strategically fighting for the space just left unoccupied. The door normally slammed shut as soon as it opened, as there was a financial time constraint at play, and the driver now had one additional task: to fill this space as soon as possible, turning on his hawkish eyes for any potential customer.
The minibuses normally stop for 5 minutes for people to use the public facilities in Sigatoka, stretch their legs, and get some refreshments. I always wondered what the locals thought when we got out of this tin tube, looking dishevelled and mubbling the words ‘water, water, water…
Upon arriving at your destination, Suva, typically in our situation, you have a new outlook on life, a bunch of new friends, and are thankful for everything you have in your life. You are energetic to start the day, with a thank you to the driver for allowing us to live another day. You don your hat and scurry away, happy in the knowledge you saved 10 dollars by taking this mode of transport.