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Focus on road safety

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As I add my words of solidarity with and condolences to the bereaved families and communities and the victims of Monday’s tragic road accident in the Rock Gutter area of North Windward, I am particularly saddened by the loss of life and the potential of the youths who died as a result, perishing on their way to enhancing their educational capacity. {{more}}

A nation suffers even more when it loses its young, the future of the country. Who knows what unfulfilled potential has been so tragically arrested, and what the flowering of that potential could have done for their families, their communities, the people of North Windward and the entire Vincentian nation? But those are matters beyond our own ambit or choosing, over which we have no say.

However, there is an old saying that “it is an ill wind which blows nobody good;” so, perhaps we should use the fatal accident as an incentive to reflect on, and come up with measures to improve our own road safety and our public transportation system.

Undoubtedly, there are formidable hurdles to be crossed. Chief among them, particularly in the cases of the northern sections of the island of St Vincent, Windward and Leeward alike, is the rough and mountainous terrain, which presents challenges for both road construction and safe road use. Our national resource limitations, including access to finance, further amplify these challenges, but we must find creative means to work around them.

Special scrutiny needs to be placed on our public transportation system. This has evolved and improved markedly over the years. Less than a generation ago, access by public transport to the northern areas was very restricted. In fact, when I was a boy, access to North Leeward was mainly by boat, launches such as ERIC, MARCELLE and DAISY D, plying the route between Chateaubelair and Kingstown, with stops along the route. It is a pity that such sea access, particularly via the calmer, safer western waters, is not explored today.

Our public transport system of today is private in nature, and largely unorganized and insufficiently regulated. It is also much maligned, but we must be grateful for the investment of those owners of such vehicles who have taken the risk so that the tens of thousands of Vincentians without their own vehicles can travel to and fro throughout our country. Gone are the days when if you were travelling “up north”, you had to catch a bus by midday and when coming to town, had to wake up “foreday morning” in order to get a ride.

Driving public buses can be a strenuous task and the people of North Windward and Leeward have been well served by outstanding drivers, braving the difficult terrain and perilous roads over the years. To them, like the owners, our country owes a debt of gratitude.

But we are in a very different set of circumstances today. This is the age of the minibus, the age of the buccaneering spirit, of cut-throat competition, especially on the shorter routes into and around Kingstown. There is a proliferation of a new type of driver and their conductors, with all the flash and razzmatazz which would attract the “new” passenger of today, the youths, replete with blaring music, graffiti, and all the other modern attractions.

In the process, the basic objective of a public transportation system, that is to provide reliable and safe transport for the public gets lost in the competition. The Minibus Association tries to make appeals to its members, but very often these are ignored since, as in the case of many of us, workers and trade unions being an example, it is only when we experience a problem that we look to our organization.

The relatively lax climate surrounding public transport also creates difficulties for those who advocate or try to enforce safety regulations. Traffic police officers are considered almost as enemies and if people can get away with not paying licences and insurance, they will do so, jeopardizing the public, and themselves. Similarly, and this is not restricted to minibus drivers alone; some underhand collusion seems to be taking place whereby licences are obtained not through the prescribed channels. This can be dangerous for public transport if persons without the requisite experience end up driving public transport vehicles.

It is therefore as good a time as any for bold initiatives, discussions, consultations and ACTION to try and improve all aspects of our public transport system, from roads to vehicles (roadworthiness), from drivers to licensing system, from the Ministry of Transport to Minibus and Taxi Associations. It would be the best tribute we can give to those who have suffered and died.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social com-mentator.

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