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Raffique Shah


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Ah bus ah cuss on the PNM

By Raffique Shah
October 10, 2018

It's a huge problem that adversely affects more than half of the population every day, costs the country billions of dollars a year in lost production, adds substantially to our mental and physical health bills-yet no government has had the testicular fortitude to confront it head-on, thus improving the quality and length of our lives.

Traffic jams, traffic congestion, call it what you will, will one day bring this country to a complete halt...full stop. And I dare argue that other than sitting in the now-mandatory air-conditioned comfort of their “rides”, music jamming, mankind “steupsing”, no one would even wind down his vehicle window to complain about this madness.

Since my Parkinson's-enforced confinement to home, I no longer have to worry about being stuck in a sea of traffic somewhere, anywhere, since the problem has spread from Port of Spain to every two-by-two intersection. Now, from the comfort of my home, I get frequent phone-calls from friends seeking relief from their misery: Boy, ah stuck here by the Lighthouse for the past hour. Or: I left home since 5 a.m. and I ‘ent reach the C-R yet-this at 8 a.m.

It seems that motorists and citizens in general have resigned themselves to the inevitability of traffic congestions. With an estimated 800,000 motor vehicles on this tiny country's limited roads, surely one of the highest ratios per capita, people have grown to accept torture-by-traffic as a fate we have been condemned to endure forever.

What infuriates me is that there are solutions to this problem, or at least some measures that can reduce it. They will not eliminate it, not while our love affair with ownership of vehicles, which ranks higher that owning a house, continues to be fuelled by lending institutions liberal approach to vehicle loans. But there are relatively inexpensive initiatives that will enable the tens of thousands of people who must journey to and from the capital city every day to do so with relative ease.

Other than regurgitating government's intention to proceed with the new highways to Manzanilla and Toco (thousands of motorists and commuters are queuing up to use them), Finance Minister Colm Imbert's only reference to traffic relief was during a media interview: we buying more buses. I ask: to add to the congestion?

Of course more buses transporting large numbers of commuters generally, and into, around and out of POS, can bring substantial relief to commuters and motorists. But we can enjoy such benefits only if their addition is linked to a bus rapid transit (BRT) system.

Unfortunately for the travelling public, BRT is a bad cuss-word in the PNM vocabulary. And the UNC/PP, which promotes it when they are out of office, made a free-for-all of the lone Priority Bus Route, contradicting themselves.

The PNM is determined not to support anything that resembles a BRT system since it would probably obviate the need for the party's dream transit project, rapid rail. Let me say that rapid rail is an ideal mass transit system. But because it is extremely costly (basic infrastructure alone, rail and stations, range from US $16 million per kilometer, to a high of $55 million), it remains beyond this country's reach in the foreseeable future.

BRT, in contrast, is substantially cheaper, and given the infrastructure we have in place between the Butler Highway from Chaguanas (six lanes on each carriageway) almost to the PBR in Mount Hope, and the PBR itself between Arima and POS, makes it an easily implementable project.

I hazard a guess it will cost less than TT $500 million, can be phased in from within six months of a decision, and be fully operational within the designated areas (Arima-POS, Chaguanas-POS) within two years.

The first pre-requisite is the elimination of all minor traffic-lights-regulated intersections along the PBR either completely or by installing small, pre-fabricated concrete/steel overpasses on the minor roads. This will reduce to a minimum traffic-lights interruptions for the buses (and maybe large maxi-taxis). Heavy vehicles will cross the PBR only at road-level intersections.

In the meantime, 100-plus new buses are sourced and drivers/technicians are trained. Bus stops/stations that offer comfort to commuters are constructed, seats welded to frames, and much use made of tough plastic glass sidings for transparency and safety, along with solar lighting. Parking for commuters' vehicles is made available where possible-all with safety a prime factor.

Initially, the inner lane of each carriageway of the Butler will be designated for buses only (and maybe large maxi-taxis) during peak-time, and the PBR will revert to its original purpose-a priority bus route 24/7. With a boost in the number of buses operating, fares adjusted to cover operating costs, and professional service from PTSC staff, thousands of commuters can get to an upgraded City Gate on mornings in a fraction of the time it now takes them.

From South Quay, a fleet of maxi-size buses take commuters on fixed inner- and upper-city routes, closer to their destinations, again, for fares that will cover operating costs: overall, little or no subsidies, professional services, safe and comfortable commuting.

Note, I haven't addressed real BRT yet. I have barely touched its potential. I confined my suggestions to Arima-Chaguanas-POS, admittedly the parts of Trinidad with the highest volume of vehicular traffic. Our transport engineers have the solutions to our traffic woes down to a science.

Me? I just “bus” a cuss on the PNM.

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