By Stephen Kangal
January 19, 2007
A self-imposed media embargo seems to have overtaken Minister Colm Imbert lately on the tenuous fate of his TRRP. This prognosis has been reinforced by the negative and depressing body language that he displayed while communicating to the press at Whitehall on the Interchange. I am coming to the intuitive conclusion that Cabinet seems to have ordered secretly a pre-emptive moratorium against the TRRP, in an election year, to avoid any further disastrous fallout from another major reversal and embarrassment while the wounds inflicted by the Chatham debacle are still fresh, politically painful and electorally threatening.
In the face of this development that was spawned by arrogance and unilateralism, it must be understood that the privately owned East-West Corridor and other maxi-taxi transit delivery methods has been providing a vital public transport service without receiving any subsidies from the State. It is estimated that about 30,000 persons per hour during peak hours or 100,000 persons travel to POS on a daily basis. The amount transported by the East-West Corridor maxis as well as their catchment area must be determined if a proper assessment of the TRRP is to be made. There are 550 maxis registered in Trinidad and over 350 pay an annual fee of $1200.00 to the Ministry of Works to use the PBR.
I am totally confused why this magical figure of 30,000 passengers per hour is the only basis for dispensing $20 billion of tax-payers money into a system that is not guaranteed to alleviate the traffic gridlock because no proper feasibility study has been commissioned. I am not sure that Parsons Brinckerhoff in its confidential but inaccessible Draft Report has recommended the TRRP option.
In fact Government derives VAT and other revenues both from the issue of PBR passes ($1200 per year) and the purchases of spares etc by these operators. They have invested substantial personal resources in the acquisition of their buses, owe the banks and some are victims of banditry. The cost of a 25 seater bus is about half a million dollars.
I support the accusation of betrayal and “neemakharam” made by Victor George on behalf of his members in the face of the impending TRRP monstrosity. Minister Imbert is deliberately excluding the role of the maxis and route taxis in his flawed assessment of the current mass transit system. He did not mention these existing transit delivery methods in his Senate, House, Chamber of Commerce Address nor in his public address to the Nation. For him they do not exist. The perfection of this system of private public transport can be something that we can transfer to other developing countries. It does not constitute a drain on the Treasury and will not be a burden on future tax-payers when the gas/oil bonanza runs out as it did post-1984.
It is high time that Government consider providing reliefs and subsidies since it is prepared to sink $20 billion in the TRRP without any mechanism to recover this astronomical capital investment. This system has evolved as a successful partial replacement to the inefficient and costly-run PTSC buses. Government must also introduce a comprehensive regulatory system and passenger infrastructure to address the legitimate concerns of commuters in close collaboration with Victor George’s Route Two and other Associations
Were Government to invest initially, say $50 million and more of the proposed TRRP budget of $20 billion to assist in sudsidising and streamlining maxi-taxi operations across the country, commuters and operators will be happy and current commuting problems will be reduced substantially. Many lost man-hours will be saved and we do not have to close the PBR for years and cause aggravated chaos and gridlock. Since 1991 Government has not increased the complement of 511 maxis although the travelling public has increased four-fold. In fact Government is exerting various pressures on the owners regarding sale and transfer of the vehicles. No wonder the service is deteriorating.
A Commission of Inquiry must be instituted into the role of maxis in the mass transportation system so that its proper function may be evaluated and established further. The only reference made by Minister Colm Imbert in respect of the maxis is the redesign of City Gate to accommodate buses, maxis and the TRRP. He also spoke of the maxis serving the feeder routes to the TRRP but this is financially non-productive to the operators because of traffic gridlock in the feeder roads.
This system transports more passengers than the inter-island ferry, the PTSC buses and the proposed water taxi combined. In fact Government pays a $200 million subsidy annually on the inter-island ferry, $100 million for PTSC and will pay an annual $66 million subsidy for the water taxi. This does not include the millions of dollars capital costs for purchasing ferries and buses, maintaining them and building reception facilities.
Government in its arrogant insanity and dictatorial unilateralism now proposes to deprive over 350 citizens, hundreds of small service providers/ mechanics/body shop technicians and their dependent families of their legitimate expectation of continuing to earn a decent living. Maxis provide a flexible system of accessible, fast, self-financed public transport that is not subject to disruptive industrial action from a unionized work-force as the TRRP will be.
Let good sense and social justice prevail in the allocation of our dwindling patrimony! Government must further reinforce, subsidise and develop this transport mode that is in fact indigenous to T&T rather than transfer billions to foreign firms such as Vinci and Bombardier for construction, consultancies and rolling stock and spares for the TTRP. It is to be noted that rather than pursue the original design, build, operate and maintain method (DBOM) a contract for design only will be awarded by 28 February, 2007, to either Vinci/Bombardier or Bruyeges.
Everyday there are changes in location, costs etc because the approach to the TRRP is adhocracy-based. Minister Imbert says that the CRH is now the preferred route and this raises a range of logistical challenges, most notably passenger revenues. But more anon.