Public transportation a priority

By Raffique Shah
September 27, 2017

Raffique ShahI continue to focus on issues pertinent to the economy, to chastise the Keith Rowley-led administration for using the slump in the energy sector, hence plummeting government revenues, to moan and complain and blame for their inactivity, rather than being bold and innovative, grabbing opportunities that require little by way of capital investments, but which might yield rich returns.

Last week, I lamented the neglect of the maritime services sector for which we are generously endowed, but which both government and the private sector have failed to exploit.

This week, I ask readers to try to think of initiatives government, any government, has taken to reduce the nationwide traffic jams that cripple productivity, costing us millions of dollars daily in lost man-hours. Instead of being on their jobs producing, tens of thousands of people are stuck in traffic stewing. Upgrading some highways—six lanes on Beetham, Butler and part of Churchill-Roosevelt—has hardly helped.

The extension of the Hochoy Highway to Point Fortin, as beneficial as it will be to motorists going to or coming from the south-western peninsula, will result in those heading to Port of Spain hitting the jam earlier, which is little comfort. We know what the core problems are: the absence of an efficient public transportation system, and the consequential overabundance of motor vehicles on the roads. These have never been systematically addressed.

The incumbent Government sees the solution in a prohibitively costly rapid rail network that it does not even talk about now, since it’s a fiscal impossibility in the current and near-future economic climate. The previous Government opened up the Priority Bus Route to almost all vehicles, which resulted in another “jam session”.

None of them has been bold enough to say, look, if we spend a few hundred million dollars over, say, five years, to upgrade the bus service, and assign one lane each direction to buses and large maxis only during peak hours between Chaguanas and the PBR, we’ll make a significant impact on commuting time in that high-density route. And if we eliminate most of the minor traffic-lights’ intersections on the PBR by dispensing with them, or by erecting pre-fabricated, light vehicles overpasses, then the buses would breeze through from Arima to Port of Spain. Such initiatives would significantly improve commuting in the highest density quadrant in the country, stretching virtually from Sangre Grande in the East to POS in the West, and Chaguanas in Central.

Of course, to woo commuters away from their private vehicles, the buses will need to run frequently during peak hours, and be on schedule. Facilities at boarding and exit “stops” must be comfortable and safe, protecting passengers from the elements and from criminals. Given the mentality of some among us, such facilities must also be vandal-proof! And feeder services from communities that will use the mainline buses must be adequate and efficient.

All of the above, or modifications thereof based on expert advice from our highly qualified transportation engineers, can be implemented in short order, at a comparatively modest cost. If we add staggered working hours where practical, and more employees working from their homes in this age of high speed information and communication technologies, we are talking about enormous savings on fuels, reduction in pollution, and a healthier, more focussed workforce that will increase productivity almost magically.

Government just needs to be daring, to try something (or things) radically different!

So all these exotic thoughts running through my mind, then boom! I get this email:

“Raf,

“We are in serious problems. Have you seen and read the kind of race-laced vitriol that is being spewed by one particular race since the PM opened the ‘borders’ for Dominicans?

“Now both sides of the racial divide are engaged in the cross-talk, but one divide is only seeing it one way – forget about the calamity and the call by the PM for ‘friends and families’ here to assist the Dominicans.

“One writer said she has visited the ‘DR’ (the woman surely figured it was the Dominican Republic), their poor is poorer than our poor…HDC houses lined up…another man ..’he want to create another ‘Lavantil’]…

“I dare to say it is a minority that is behind this racial ruckus, but I am seeing danger…”

The writer is a 50-something Indo-Trini school teacher, and his plaintive cry touched a raw nerve in my body. I am not a social media person, but via the few blogs I scan, I am aware of the racist responses to what was clearly a humanitarian initiative by the PM to the devastation hurricanes unleashed on many of our Caribbean brethren.

That some people’s sick minds could read into acts of human kindness the padding of electoral lists, tells me such depraved minds are not merely sick, they are diseased. That others are defending them under cover of freedom of expression, suggests ignorance of extreme proportions.

The saving factor is the mass of nationals, across the race and class spectrums, who are giving generously to the victims. We have not lost our humanity.

2 Responses to “Public transportation a priority”


  • It would be a welcome day when and if we can communicate our thoughts and have franks conversations as Trinidadians. There are those who deserve our respect, regardless of our own beliefs and aspirations. Such a person is Raffique Shah. It is difficult for one to write ‘out of character’. By that I mean, we know a person by what their thoughts spew and express either verbally or written. Throughout the years, Raf has enlightened us with sometimes thought provoking essays, which sometimes dig into our stored emotional closet and at times entertain our shared habits of folly and colloquialism. This makes him 100% Trini to which ALL can identify with.

    Coming back to the transportation issue, we should NOT always look to government to be creative in all matters of entrepreneurship. At present, we boast about ‘the private sector’ all the time. What that connote to most of us is that private individuals engage in business (most of the time with government help), for the good of themselves. Innovation is hardly an issue worth mentioning to our conglomerates. What they do is travel overseas, use business ideas as KFC, McDonalds,
    Check Cheese, Priceline, Same Club etc etc, then introduce them into this country to create a pseudo American atmosphere of social lifestyles and we call that progress. It is not that our business people are short on ideas or creativity, no far from it.
    What they do is ALWAYS DEPEND ON THE FINANCE MINISTER’S READING OF THE BUDGET and then derive their ideas from there on how to benefit from the budget. Not how to develop the country or getting ideas on how to use the resources that is available here – JUST HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF WHAT THE GOVERNMENT HAS TO OFFER.

    What that means, is that our business people will not spend ‘their money’ to innovate. It is true that some aspects of government require government spending like roads and utilities, but having said that why can’t business people build an aquarium?
    Why can’t business people supply air transport to and from Tobago? Why can’t business people buy large portions of land (lets say in Guyana) and produce mass agriculture and meats for consumption in the islands? Why can’t big business construct learning centers that educate our children and at the same time creating new opportunities for the development of culture and academics?

    The easy answer is ‘easy money’ – government money is much easier to ascertain and depend on. Our business people are risk averse and will not put their money into anything that does not promise ‘sure money’. Another impediment to progress is the pre-occupation with race and vote counting. Nothing impedes our progress as identifying which ‘race’ gets this opportunity and which one does not. It is an obsession that with the advent of social media, many feel empowered to vent their most innate hatreds and discriminatory notions of acceptance. They vent with impunity their most putrid and vile notions of what it means to have privilege in this country. The collective from this behavior is what is keeping us back from moving forward because if allowed to continue, there will surely become a time when consumers will willfully decide who to do business with and who not to do business with. Social media will take us down a slippery path.

    Under the PP government we saw on many occasions where some who were given positions of authority, use the opportunities to say the most vile things of other races. There are those operating under the sacrosanct of religion, use it not just to speed dogma but also to speed hatred. Social media can be used for good and have been in may areas produced good results. But with the weaponization of social media, only EVIL can come out of it. Media, without monitoring or structure to regulate the weaponizing of information can lead to total social unrest.
    This, to me is possibility that needs to be considered as we allow free speech to be used without any supervision.

  • Brother Raf, your rational thinking continues to be on point, the initiated priority bus route, was a major step in the right direction linking the east-west corridor,never to be extended to central and southern constituencies. commuters should have been able to park their vehicles on the wharf in San fernando and not having to brave the traffic mass destruction of productivity, but then again, we elect small minds in positions, that can only be detrimental for themselves, and the country long term. The in thing was Kamla commuting in the air, while showing utter disregard to the peoples vehicular traffic perils.We continue to abuse social media, in most unethical of ways, a medium that can be used to educate and enlighten, has been downgraded at times to the level of animalistic spiritualism, you may say that it is a minority behind the racial ruckus, but does it not take a spark to lit a major fire? Dominica should never have been the discourse in this Biblical oriented disaster, because the Africans in Trinidad, are made up of descendants of all the caribbean islands, and in most cases sometimes,i am ashamed of the African caribbean mindset.The Ace in the hole is the offer given by the President of Guyana, to the residents of hurricane affected islands, a major game changer both for the demographic and political streamlining, for that great land mass state, a time bomb in the making that will have wailing, and gnashing of teeth by some ethnic mis-guided sectors.In some of my comments, i tend to be harsh some what on Dr Rowley, my reason? he don’t seems to be a student of history, his refuting is not internationally structured, Oh how i wish Dr Williams was in our midst today to bring historical clarity.Being a mathematical professor in England, Dr Capildeo couldn’t fathom the idea of opposition leader with the surroundings of haters in the caliber of Badase Maharaj and the other minuscules, 55yrs later, hate is alive and doing very well, with Sat Maharaj, Kangal and a host of mis-educated Trinidadians, using social media to lurk in the darkness of malcontent. The history of the ethnic cleansing or division of India from Pakistan is one that brings horror to my readings as an African, tremendous lessons can be learnt from this historical episode.

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