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Raffique Shah


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Ride a bus...or stew in traffic

By Raffique Shah
June 17, 2007

As I sat in the very comfortable seat reading a newspaper and occasionally enjoying views motorists rarely do, a man walked up to me, identified himself as a PTSC inspector, and asked if I was Mr Shah. "I am," I responded. "I am so happy to see you riding our bus!" he exclaimed, obviously delighted, probably surprised. We chatted for a few minutes during which time I told him I discovered the "best transport secret" some time ago. Ever since, when I need to go to Port of Spain during weekdays, I park my car in Chaguanas and ride the bus. The buses are clean, they work well, are driven safely, and having access to the PBR, they get me to my destination within, say, 20 minutes (off-peak).

When I drove my car into the city, I suffered horrendous traffic, and again I am talking off-peak hours. I had long stopped trying to get into or out of the city during peak-periods. I turned down invitations to appear on morning radio or television shows and I refused to attend meetings earlier than 10 a.m.

Really, it's sheer torture sitting in your vehicle, moving an inch-a-minute, watching your temperature monitor while staying alert for some fool who would careen down the shoulder and cut in sharply in front of you.

No, sir, I thought: this is not for me. I often wonder about the tens of thousands of unlucky souls who, because they work in Port of Spain, must endure this living hell every day, whether they come from the east, west, north or south.

That's when some smart person alerted me to the alternative: ride the bus, man it's cheaper, it's efficient and you can relax in air-conditioned comfort. So I switched. And I have never regretted it. This brings me back to the inspector (and others like him) who expressed surprise on seeing me "riding ah bus". I guess they consider me a "prominent citizen", not knowing I shall forever remain a "rootsman". And prominent people just do not use public services and facilities like the bus or the local health clinics or hospitals. They don't send their children to nearby primary schools: they would spend endless money and dreadful hours taking them to "prestige" or private schools. They also don't use public recreational facilities: they pay through their noses to enter private clubs, and more recently, upscale gyms.

I ride the bus, and I can tell you it's the next best thing to being chauffeur-driven in a limousine-except the fare is far, far cheaper. It may well be that there is a shortage of buses during peak periods and there's standing room only. I have stood all the way on occasion, and it didn't hurt me as much as stewing in traffic did. City Gate can do with a major upgrade, be cleaner, more user-friendly. I know Colonel Edison Issac, the CEO at PTSC, will not tolerate the cockroaches I saw lurking in grooves of seating accommodation for waiting passengers. And how about installing an electronic information board?

I shall add only this: as I sit in the bus and watch other motorists suffering in traffic, I wonder why Works and Transport Minister Colm Imbert cannot see the wisdom in adding a BRT lane (like the PBR, with only buses and large maxi-taxis allowed) adjacent and parallel to the Butler Highway, from Chaguanas to the PBR), then restore the PBR to what it was meant to be-a freeway for only public transport. It will cost infinitely less than his rapid rail project, and with the addition of more buses, including mini-buses on feeder-routes across the country, our traffic woes could well be mitigated if not eliminated.

As for those who will turn their noses up at the mere idea of riding the bus, I say this: you gripe about traffic jams, but you will remain part of that problem and victims of reckless young punks for as long you insist on snob-values. Regarding public health centres, over many years I have used the Couva facility whenever it was necessary. Its staff members are helpful and friendly, and patients are treated with care better than they can access at high-priced private clinics.

For those who think the San Fernando hospital is a "house of horror', I spent four nights there back in 2001, two of them in the corridor on a cot. I refused to be transferred to a private institution: I understood all beds in the ward were taken, and I received the best treatment I could in the circumstances.

The Claxton Bay Anglican School is close to my home and my two children spent all but their final year in that school. They walked to school, and thanks to the groundings they got there, both went on to do very well academically. If only we'd learn to cherish our public institutions and facilities, not condemn them carte blanche, we may yet make this country a better place for us all.