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What is the holistic plan?

Published Thursday 13th November, 2008

Last week, we questioned two aspects of the Government’s transportation proposals, the basis upon which the rapid rail system is being built and the extent to which we need to plan the new transportation network.

Those are vital considerations in making a realistic assessment of the benefits likely to flow from the proposals. A well-integrated and flexible transportation network is a hallmark of the developed nations. These ambitious proposals, therefore, deserve our sober attention.

This week, we move on to discuss three further aspects of the new transportation network and query the “holistic plan.”

For the new network to make life easier for the majority of the travelling public, it would have to address these issues:

1. Interface ticketing: last week, we ended with a question: does the National Infrastructure Development Company’s (Nidco) holistic plan include PTSC?

That is a serious question if the new network is to ease the journeys of the travelling public. Ticketing is one of the most important areas for consideration and we can question the ease of the interface here. Beyond the physical location of the stops for the various transport facilities—PTSC bus, maxi taxi, taxi, rapid rail and water taxi—how does the passenger pay for these options?

We have heard that the National Lotteries’ Control Board is to phase out the lottery and take on a new role, to include the sale of tickets for various public transport facilities. It would be a big step forward to offer travellers more ticket outlets, but the real question facing us in light of the new travel options is: what type of ticket?

Will we be able to buy a single ticket which allows us to use the different parts of the network, like rapid rail, water taxis and PTSC buses?

Will we also be offered tickets which would allow us to use maxi taxis and taxis?

Will we be offered discounts if we pay in advance for a week’s or a month’s travel? It is still not possible to buy online tickets for the Tobago ferry and that is nothing less than a pity, given that there is widespread use of online ticketing internationally in situations where there are far higher ticket prices and more security implications.

Perhaps the Port Authority should start a pilot programme for online ticketing for the Tobago ferry, so that we can have a relatively simple and cheap trial run. The best way for such an emphasis on passenger convenience to become a reality seems to be the creation of a single public transportation entity. Is PTSC the one? We all know of the tremendous challenges faced by PTSC to keep its fleet of buses properly maintained. Can PTSC rise to the higher standards which the new network will demand?

2. Water taxi stops: when one considers the coastal water taxis, the first phase seems fairly straightforward, with trips between Port-of-Spain (PoS) and San Fernando predicted to take about 45 minutes or so. That would be a major advance, but we have to consider that upon completion of the second phase, there would be more stops, with time needed for slowing down, docking, passenger disembarking and boarding. That has implications in terms of travel time and one wonders whether there would be peak time non-stopping water taxis between PoS and San Fernando, for example.

What is the overall strategy?

Our national transportation plan appears to have been devised in advance of the completion of either the Comprehensive National Transportation Study or the National Land Use Plan. We seem intent on doing it all at once: highway network, rapid rail, water taxi and expansion of the PTSC bus fleet. Large-scale, expensive and complex projects are now being started, but what is the strategy? Even if we adopt the unduly optimistic approach of assuming that every part of the State’s transportation plans comes true, there remain serious grounds for concern.

Let us be clear, even if every project in the ambitious list of transportation proposals is completed on-time, within-budget and as planned, the main strategic issue remains in deficit. For example, imagine a person deciding how to travel between PoS and San Fernando in, say, ten years’ time. Proceeding with the optimistic approach outlined above, that person would have six choices of how to make that journey. Those choices would be:

·        Rapid rail

·        Coastal water taxi

·        PTSC bus

·        Maxi taxi

·        Taxi

·        Private vehicle

The biggest strategic challenge facing this process is how to get individual car owners to use the network in preference to their private cars. If we cannot do that, the entire exercise will be in vain. On that key issue, we have a disturbing silence.

What is the strategy to encourage that traveller to use one of the public transportation systems in preference to their own private car? Our country has one of the world’s highest ratios of car ownership. The State also subsidises gas prices massively, so much so that the individual motorist scarcely has a clue as to the real cost of operating a vehicle.

Just last Friday the Prime Minister emphasised to the Parliament that this country had one of the world’s lowest gas prices and, further, that the Government had no intention of reducing the fuel subsidy for at least two years. In the advanced nations, to whose status we aspire, the absence of a gas subsidy and the heavy taxation on gas purchases results in gas prices easily three times what we pay.

The point here is that the shift away from the habitual use of private cars is necessary for several reasons: these would include reducing pollution, reducing stress levels nationally by easing the motorist, reducing the outflow of foreign exchange to buy and maintain the ever-growing fleet of private cars.

Most importantly, the only way the new ambitious transport projects can achieve viability is if there are effective steps taken to discourage the use of private cars. A decisive majority of motorists would have to stop using their private vehicles and take the rapid rail, coastal water taxis and PTSC buses, if we are to make a success of this new network.

Given the background outlined above, that change could only come through bold, long-term steps. Yet the State recently completed an ambitious parkade to offer 1,800 carparking spaces for downtown PoS. We have also heard proposals for other large car parks to be built by the State at Salvatori site and in the Sea Lots area. Even if the parkade is already built, can we expect any government in this country to raise the prices of state-owned parking so as to discourage motorists? Can we expect a reduction in the gas subsidy to further discourage private motorists?

Holistic plan?

According to Nidco, all of this is taking place “As part of a holistic plan to ease traffic congestion and create a more modern, efficient transportation network.” I wonder.

We are calling on Nidco and the Ministry of Works and Transportation to publish the “holistic plan.” We paid for its preparation, we will have to pay for the projects to be built and maintained and we will have to endure the congestion until it is all done.

The Minister of Works and Transportation is one of the most vocal people in our public life. Will we hear from him now?

 

Afra Raymond is a chartered surveyor and a director of Raymond & Pierre Ltd. Feedback can be sent to afra@raymondandpierre.com.

Afra Raymond - Property Matters

According to Nidco, all of this is taking place “As part of a holistic plan to ease traffic congestion and create a more modern, efficient transportation network.” I wonder. We are calling on Nidco and the Ministry of Works and Transportation to publish the “holistic plan.”

We paid for its preparation, we will have to pay for the projects to be built and maintained and we will have to endure the congestion until it is all done.

The Minister of Works and Transportation is one of the most vocal people in our public life. Will we hear from him now?