|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:
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
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
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:
Coastal water taxi
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
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
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.
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?
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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.