By Raffique Shah
October 03, 2022
When elephants fight, the grass gets trampled. So goes an adage that hardly adds to anything that enhances the English language, but it hammers home the class and other stratifications of most societies, oftentimes not even knowing that the ordinary people have accepted their places or ranks, their fates, as if they were ordained by God, and cannot, must not, be tampered with by mere mortals.
Thus locked in for life, maybe even in the hereafter, ordinary citizens know their place, so much so they have adopted as the gospel-sequel to my opening quote—”the elephant in the room”—as if it, too, were biblical, not an updated way of expressing raw power, brute force, no doubt authored or simply roared into our lexicon by a latter-day “General Bullmoose” in some corporate boardroom where he ruled supreme.
Before I go way off-track with my little rant and forget what I really intended to place up front as the nation focuses on the next fiscal year’s budget, let me take the perverse pleasure of calling to account the Minister of Finance, Colm Imbert, for hardly mentioning one of the most challenging issues the nation faces daily—traffic woes or congestion on every highway, pot-holed by-way, ancient sugar cane-trace-turned-into-roadway, bandit-tracks pressed into PH-duty, and other manifestations of the good lives most citizens enjoy in spite of their protestations to the contrary.
We must be among the handful of countries in the world that have more motor vehicles than people… well, adults. Now, before the “Rabs Immortals” murder my half-dead donkey for, they will claim, trying to deny them their “rides”, I make it clear I am not suggesting any such madness. In this land of the crazy and the dumb, every fool is entitled to live by any means necessary, including above his means even by killing another citizen who may have what he yearns for.
Toxic emissions from traffic jams are the single greatest source of pollution that is harmful to all living things. In these small-island states like ours, we harm not only ourselves but every living organism daily, yearly. Is it any wonder cancers of unusual types are killing people across the country and in the world in general?
We can remedy this partly by reducing toxic emissions, especially vehicular emissions. We do not have to wait for Government or the World Health Organisation to resort to introducing and enforcing laws prohibiting the use of personal vehicles or other drastic measures, as has happened elsewhere in the world.
Some may argue Government has the responsibility to take action by improving the infrastructure that will ease traffic congestion. I agree to a point that they are culpable—for example, efficient public transport via rapid rail, bus rapid-transit, restricting the number of vehicles accessing major towns and cities on certain days and like measures can reduce emissions.
Around the turn of the century the Patrick Manning government promoted the idea of a rapid rail system linking Arima and San Fernando to Port of Spain. As I recall it, the cost was prohibitively high and the matter became a political one that saw Manning lose the general election of 2010. The opposition UNC and several interest groups opposed the project which was rapidly “derailed”.
I was among those who favoured a version of bus transit that could have been implemented in short time with little additional expenses. When Jack Warner, as Minister of Works, added one extra lane to each carriage way on the Butler Highway from Chaguanas to Mt Hope—and it worked, although it was a tight fit—the option for a bus-only lane arose.
We could, and they still can, use the slow lane between Chaguanas and the Priority Bus Route for buses only during peak hours. With an adequate fleet of buses, and by closing some of the minor entrances and exits on the PBR, the buses could transport a large number of commuters.
I shall not dwell on the arguments I used at the time to show how practical and cost-effective such limited systems could be. People seem to prefer the daily punishment they face as commuters across the country, that they spend hours stuck in traffic trying to reach Port of Spain and other offices and businesses, claiming personal convenience.
Doctors will tell you that large numbers of people suffer from anxiety, panic attacks and similar mental conditions because they have to face traffic daily. Covid showed us large numbers of employees can effectively and efficiently work from home without upsetting the organisations productivity, maybe even enhancing it. We learned nothing from that.
Given its widespread reach that negatively impacts motorists and commuters, parliamentarians across the board should seriously address this issue and work together assiduously at remedying our traffic woes.
The health and well-being of your taxpayers are at stake here.