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Time for a national conversation on public transportation that goes beyond talk

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Fri, Jan 30, 2015

It is often said that issues in St Vincent and the Grenadines are only discussed for nine days before something else grabs our attention. Unfortunately, this is true even for very tragic and serious issues, which should prompt us to go beyond the short-term chatter.

This country is still in mourning following the loss of seven young lives at Rock Gutter earlier this month, but the tragedy has brought into focus the need for a safe and properly regulated public transportation system.{{more}} We are by no means here, coming to any conclusion about the causes of the Rock Gutter accident, but the incident provides us with an opportunity for discussion and effecting meaningful change in the sector, which should not be squandered.

And just before the incident happened at Owia, the nation was engrossed in discussion about a parliamentarian who had been driving an unlicensed and uninsured vehicle for five years, and another who had been driving without a valid driver’s licence for a similar period. So we are at this point, where a discussion on all aspects of road safety is timely. This is a discussion we have had many times before, but it has always been just talk; conversation which end without any resulting meaningful changes.

The topic of safety and the quality of service offered to the public by minivan operators is one of the more popular topics of letters to the editor and calls to programmes on radio stations. People complain, policy makers commiserate, police threaten, but there is very little sustained action.

In our Midweek edition of SEARCHLIGHT on January 27, 2015, we carried a must read letter by accident reconstruction specialist Carl Darwin Cupid who made certain recommendations in relation to safe operation of minivans.

And in this edition of SEARCHLIGHT, we carry a story on our back page in which head of the traffic department, Superintendent Kenneth John says his department intends to ‘clamp down’ on the recklessness exhibited by some motorists, particularly van drivers, on the road. He also mentioned overcrowding and the operation of unlicensed and uninsured vehicles as areas they intend to place even more focus on.

It is interesting to note that the traffic boss specifically mentioned that he is trying to bring on board, to assist with their clamp down, police officers assigned to the outstations. It is surprising that Superintendent John would have to make a special effort to get the cooperation of his outstation colleagues, as one would have thought that the duty to enforce the law in relation to motorists rests with all police officers, not just the few assigned to the traffic department.

The efforts of the members of the traffic department are commendable and should be supported by the public, but our national discussion needs to go beyond enforcement of the law. Accident reconstruction specialist Cupid, in his letter, mentioned the low fares charged by the vans, which he suggests may explain the overcrowding and speeding by these public service vehicles. Increasing the fares charged by vans is a proposal not likely to be welcomed by the public, but it is something that should be considered as part of an overall revamping of the system. Minivans are businesses and if a profit cannot be made, they would go out of business.

Other issues that cry out for attention include hours of operation, routes and availability of transportation on Sundays and public holidays. The inaccessibility and unavailability of public transportation after 8:00 at nights and on Sundays and public holidays are not just inconveniences to those who wish to travel, but a retarding force in the development of certain types of businesses, especially those in the entertainment and creative sectors.

So, before we move on to the next topic of discussion, let us pause a bit. Let the accident at Rock Gutter not be in vain. Let one of the positive outcomes of that tragedy be radical changes in how our public transportation sector operates.

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