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Public transport system needs overhaul

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In recent years, greater accessibility to vehicle ownership and the need for more personal convenience and safety, especially for women, have resulted in more and more persons using private transport rather than relying on the public transport system. However, the vast majority of working people, students and pupils are dependent on our public transport system to move around.{{more}}

This system being privately-owned and operating in the context of a society with less and less regard for law and order is sorely in need of an overhaul to make it more efficient, more responsive to the needs of commuters and less haphazard. It cries out for attention from our law-makers and those who wield substantial influence in the society.

But these people do not use public transport and their main concern seems to be the driving of van-drivers on the road. Save for transport minister Julian Francis, very few of our Parliamentarians demonstrate any real interest in the public transport system, except of course if there is conflict between Government and van-drivers.

There is too much that is wrong about the system of public transport and it indeed needs a complete overhaul. Thus, I was happy to see NOBA, the van drivers representative body making proposals for improvement thereto, at a press conference on July 15. The Association must be complimented for offering these proposals even though in so doing, it appeared to sometimes be confused as to its role in representing drivers and owners, and one can question to what extent its proposals have the approval of the majority of these.

The history of relations between NOBA and Government has fundamentally hinged around issues like fares and roads on the part of NOBA, and the need for regulation on the part of Government. This time it is NOBA calling for regulation. In so doing some rather strong language was used which will not go down well with drivers and owners and could have been avoided.

However there is no gainsaying the truth of NOBA’s charges, that the system is “disorganized” and “unprofessional”, that many drivers are “reckless” and display blatant disregard for traffic regulations. To be fair though, many drivers of private vehicles can also be so described. NOBA has therefore put forward a number of recommendations aimed at ensuring “safety”, “efficiency” and “sustainability”.

Many of these, such as the proposed line-up system and zoning, are not rocket-science and are in operation in neighbouring countries. NOBA has called for increased inspections of vehicles, drug, alcohol and medical fitness tests for drivers, training of drivers and conductors and enforcement of the Traffic Act. Can there be any reasonable objection to these?

It has also put forward a Code of Practice for the transport system, proposing that drivers of public transport vehicles should be at minimum, 25 years old and have at least three years driving experience, possess a Defensive Driving Certificate, and conform to some minimum standards of courtesy, dress and behaviour.

These all go to the heart of some of the problems in the public transport system – the consumption of alcohol while transporting passengers by both drivers and conductors alike, the questionable procurement of driving licences for public transport without any demonstrable road experience. It may be of interest to know that a Superintendent of Police in Grenada was this week arrested and charged for matters relating to the illegal procurement of licences.

The NOBA proposals have caused much public reaction, some of it negative. But we need to go beyond the personal, whether persons like the organization’s president or not, and beyond NOBA’s shortcomings and address the fundamentals themselves. Is there a need to clean up this deteriorating situation? How best can we do so? Which of NOBA’s proposals are appropriate?

We also need to do something about the notorious Tokyo bus centre. It was a grave error to flood such a place of public convenience with rum-shops, not to police it adequately or to stick to regulations relating to operations there. Tokyo itself lies at the heart of the disorganized public transport system.

It has however become a political problem and I would like to see cross-party support on measures to rectify the mess in which we have become involved. There are reasonable people in the leadership of both parties. True, they do not use public transport, but the people who vote for them are reliant on it. Can’t they cooperate to lift our country, make life easier for commuters, and help to restore law and order?

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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