By George Alleyne
September 15, 2010 – newsday.co.tt
The decision by the People’s Partnership Government not to proceed with the rapid rail project will result, if implemented, in the continued overcrowding of the nation’s roads and loss of productivity in the work place and the classrooms.
Countless thousands of workers and schoolchildren will continue to arrive at work and school under needless stress occasioned by traffic jams and requiring time to unwind thus, effectively, reducing their output.
The multi-passenger rapid rail trains would have been positioned to lift, say, 800 to 1,000 each as opposed to the four or five-seater conventional taxi or private car; the 12-24 passenger maxi taxi and the larger 50-passenger bus. In turn, the utilisation of rapid rail would have meant that far less gasolene and compressed natural gas would be needed on an annual or five to ten-year basis, thus releasing the volume of energy saved to earn additional valuable foreign exchange.
The discarding of the rapid rail programme could not or rather should not have been based on the initial cost of laying down the tracks, acquiring the trains and operating the system.
Clearly, hundreds of millions of dollars would be saved annually through workers reaching their places of employment well in time and stress free.
Additionally, the man hours saved would make the country’s products, whether energy based or non-energy based, that much more competitive, not only in regional and international markets but in the domestic market as well. It would have been a plus as the nation moved toward diversification of its economy. The introduction of rapid rail would have, tacitly, subsidised manufacturing costs of many a product and this would have been reflected in increased demand for our goods and services.
In the meantime, it would have been myopic for the People’s Partnership Administration to have viewed what clearly should have been a smooth running and efficient service in terms of profit and loss.
Was it not Guido Moss, the celebrated United States transport expert, who had been sent to Trinidad and Tobago by the US Operation Mission to the West Indies to advise on the establishment of a transport system, who would state: “Public ownership of transport is very generally operated at a financial loss”?
Admittedly, Moss, who submitted his Report and recommendations on February 20, 1961, had been commissioned to investigate bus transport.
Nevertheless, his arguments with respect to the multi-passenger bus as opposed to the conventional taxi could be employed today for rapid rail in relation to even the buses and, certainly, the maxis and taxis.
Let me quote Moss: “With its five passengers per taxicab compared to 50 passengers for a bus, ten taxicabs are required to carry the load of one bus.” Similarly, for one train lifting, say, 1,000 passengers, 200 five-passenger taxis would be needed and 20 50-passenger buses!
This Column is not presenting a case for a replacement of conventional taxis, maxi taxis or Public Transport Service Corporation buses by rapid rail, but instead is advancing the argument of optimum utilisation of land space, hassle free journeys and greater productivity. The economic benefits, as noted earlier, are clear and important.
What would have been important as well would have been the effective marketing of the rapid rail system. This would have included marketing the spin off benefits of promoting stress free travel, on time arrival at offices and job sites and classrooms, greater productivity in the work place leading to TT goods being more competitive.
Meanwhile, if the People’s Partnership Government had reservations about the cost of the rapid rail cars and models which the previous People’s National Movement government had accepted, it could have considered other makes and designs.
The cost per ticket per person would have been higher than travelling, say, by maxi taxi, conventional taxi or PTSC bus. But the journeys would have been hassle free in air conditioned comfort. Residents offering their patronage would have been guided by time tables.
The former railway service which was phased out on December 28, 1968, had been around for almost a century. This Column is of the view that all may not be lost with rapid rail and that it will one day make a needed contribution to the industrial and economic development of Trinidad and Tobago.