Sunday 28th September, 2008

Dana Seetahal
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Clueless about public transportation

The Minister of Finance made what I consider to be an amazing pronouncement in her budget statement. She said the Government believed that public transportation was “now reliable and efficient.”

It was in the light of this that the Government made the decisions to increase motor vehicle tax on the importation of private motor vehicles and raise the price of premium gas.

I wonder if any Cabinet member, most of all the Minister of Finance, has used public transportation in recent times—or even in life.

If he/she has, then it would have been clear that any claim that the system is reliable and efficient is farcical.

I myself have not travelled by public transport for several years, but I do drive along the East/West Corridor every day, and I can see the massive number of commuters awaiting transportation.

I have observed people pushing and shoving to get a maxi-taxi or a bus, and in truth, the state of affairs does not appear to be much different today from what it was when I was a schoolgirl, and travelling in public transportation was a nightmare.

This conclusion was confirmed when I made enquiries of several young people who use public transportation as to their experiences.

The unanimous view was that, in so far as travel along the East-West Corridor was concerned, the situation is chaotic every day, and public transportation is unreliable.

Each person questioned felt that every member of the Government who believed that the system was efficient should be made to travel for a week, or even a couple of days, in public transportation before suggesting that this is the way the public should go.

PTSC buses do not appear to operate on a fixed schedule, commuters say. For example, there are buses from La Horquetta that are supposed to leave at 5, 6 and 6.30 am, but they can be late for as much as half-hour.

From Arima, there is supposed to be a bus every 30 minutes, but again they are not reliable. Sometimes two or three buses arrive in a space of ten minutes, and then there is none for an hour.

A commuter, therefore, cannot come out at 6.30 am every day expecting to get a bus and arrive in Port-of-Spain by 8.30 am. It may happen some days, but on others you have to wait and pray.

The situation is worse leaving Port-of-Spain. In fact, none of the people I spoke to actually took a bus out of City Gate. The reason?

The line was “too long” every time. It would meander outside City Gate, and there was never any sign that it would get shorter. This alone attested to the fact that there was clearly an insufficient number of buses to meet the needs of would-be PTSC passengers.

They have to resort to maxi-taxis.

Just looking from the outside at City Gate I have been struck by the apparent disorganisation of the whole maxi-taxi system, and this impression was confirmed by what I learnt on enquiry.

I was told that it was frequently a fight to get a place in a maxi-taxi. Commuters pushed, squeezed to get into the maxi, so much so that many taxis have been damaged as a result.

I was told of people jumping through windows of the maxis to get in before they were filled. Children and pregnant women all fall in the crush, with no quarter given to them, and pickpocketing is common.

Some maxi operators are so fearful of the crowds that they refrain from parking in their designated areas to avoid the rush of people, and instead stop elsewhere.

The travelling public are dissatisfied with the service that the Government deems reliable and efficient. They speak of having to wait for 30-45 minutes at City Gate to get a maxi-taxi.

If you get there at 4.30 or thereafter, forget waiting in City Gate. You have to walk as far as Sea Lots (near the market) to obtain transport. The minister spoke of the stress and decline in the quality of life as a result of the traffic congestion.

She clearly does not appreciate the daily battle that commuters face just to get to and from work. The present situation with the maxi taxis is untenable.

I wonder if any Cabinet minister is aware that it cost the same $5 to go from City Gate to San Juan as it does to go from City Gate to Arima.

Therefore, on any day when transport is difficult, taxis make the short trips. An Arima resident would pay $5 to Curepe, $4 to Five Rivers and then $5 to Arima. This is what frequently operates on the trip into Port-of-Spain as well.

Imagine an OJT employee earning about $1,800 a month employed in Port-of-Spain, and living in Arima, paying this kind of money for transportation and undergoing this kind of stress on a daily basis.

Yet the minister boasts of sustainable employment and efficient and reliable public transportation.

She must be joking.

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