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Let there be no repeat of this tragedy of tragedies


Tue Jan 27, 2015

Editor: I hate to say it, but prior to 2002, I predicted that a tragic accident involving a passenger carrying van would occur. That was my reason for writing an article in the Searchlight in May 2001. During a visit to the country of my birth that year, I observed that there was a lot to be desired in the driving habits in the beautiful mountainous island of St Vincent.{{more}}

You are preparing to invite the wider international community to visit the country by the imminent commissioning of the international airport and there is already a vibrant cruise ship sector of the tourist industry in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Many tourists save money for many years to attend one and only cruise in their entire lives. St Vincent and the Grenadines would be one of the intermediate destinations they would be visiting, and as such, they would like to feel safe when visiting the islands. There are also visiting businessmen who frequent the nation.

Many people prefer to use public transport whenever they visit St Vincent and the Grenadines. They prefer to be infused with the community, because the citizens are very friendly.

It is a very good thing that public transportation is privately owned in the country, because it provides employment opportunities for many citizens, with minimal interference by the state. That interference is in the form of licensing the vans (called maxi-taxis in Trinidad and Tobago).

In my article on the subject in May 2001, I made mention of the displacement of the centres of gravity when temporary seats are placed in the aisles of the vehicles and the ill effects of that practice. The transportation system is very reliable when it comes to taking passengers to and from their various destinations. However, when it comes to comfort and safety during the trips, passengers are disenfranchised because of the way they are packed like sardines in the ‘vans’. I like the idea that there is a conductor in every van. It is not an absolute requirement in Trinidad and Tobago. There is, however, some negative attributes to the system that must be corrected. During one of my visits to the island, I was travelling to Georgetown. I had to let the driver know that he was driving dangerously. A female passenger (about middle age) said that they liked the fast driving. She went on to add that they don’t want to travel in slow driving vehicles. The driver’s response to me was that I should disembark from the vehicle if I did not like the way he was driving. I did disembark. I would like to impress on the local authorities the gravity of the situation that has permeated the public transport system. It must be corrected as soon as possible. Some of the factors to be addressed include:

1. The number of passengers for which vans must be licensed must be commensurate with the number of passengers for which the vehicles were designed to carry. Those that are now licensed to carry 18 to 21 (or more) passengers were designed to carry not more than about 13 (the small ones). In order to accommodate 18 – 20 passengers, some of them are made to sit almost sideways on one buttock.

2. If the manufacturers did not install seats in the aisles, no temporary stool should be placed there. The passengers and temporary stools become projectiles in the event of the application of sudden braking or collisions.

3. In my article of May 2001, I made mention of the fares. The low fares may be encouraging drivers to ‘hustle’, especially during peak hours. It would be better to increase fares, along with the reduction of the number of passengers the vans should carry.

4. The state must urgently embark on educating drivers, passengers and other citizens via the various media to enable the dismantling of the negative cultural attitudes relating to the behaviour of van drivers, conductors and many passengers.

5. One of the seats in the vans should be allocated to the conductor. The practice is: when a van is over-filled to excess capacity (technically), the conductor squeezes himself into the van by the door. His person virtually rests on the adjacent passengers in a most embarrassing manner.

6. The local tourist organization of the Government (and also private ones) should introduce certification progammes for drivers and conductors in methods that would encourage visitors to sell the country as a tourist destination as far as the public transportation system is concerned.

7. The packing of passengers is not only unsafe, as has happened in the tragedy. It is also a health hazard to passengers.

It is my hope that the authorities concerned should act with dispatch to arrest the situation, so that passengers would be comfortable during their journey. Condolences to aggrieved persons and to St Vincent and the Grenadines.

I would be happy to lend some assistance in this regard.

Carl Darwin Cupid, B. Eng, MSAE, R. Eng. (T&T).

Accident Reconstruction Specialist