November 04, 2009

Traffic Solutions

I decided that this year, instead of just writing letters of complaint, I will write about ideas, solutions, encouraging news and inspirational thoughts to cheer up my citizens. So after a while of spiritual stuff, it's nice to delve into something more pragmatic. This is something that has most people completely at their wits end- the traffic problem.

Now we can wait for the rail system to come in about twenty years or so or we can start doing some practical things to aid the situation ourselves while rallying the powers that be around some much cheaper solutions.

For Me & You

Remember the days of the "Family Car"? It's time to bring them back.

If you rent, try as much as possible to live close to where you work. This now makes it possible to walk, bicycle or take a short taxi ride to your job. Are you job hunting? Try to get work close to where you live. And is it really necessary to buy a car for each member of your household? When most of us were growing up, we had a “family car”. You worked your schedule around the “family car”, even when you got your own license. Even if your parents were well off, you only got your first car (usually the old family car when your parents upgraded to a newer family car), when you could pay for one yourself. That usually meant you were also at a certain age and level of responsibility.

Try to live near where you work or find work near to where you live. That way you can bike or walk to work.

We have far too many irresponsible, impatient, spoilt brats on the road endangering their lives and those of others. Tell me, how is the quality of your family life today when all your kids are off speeding in their own cars as soon as they get their license compared to the days when more quality time was spent traveling together? Somehow we still got everything done back then with one family car and there was less traffic on the roads and much less stress. All it takes is patience, planning and communication, which by the way, are good attributes for families and young people especially to adopt.

Put aside your false pride and walk when you can! It is what even successful, famous people in First World cities do. Stop seeing status as driving a fancy car, that is SOOO 1980s. Minimalism, conservation and planet consciousness are now the IN thing among people who are educated and well off.

Carpooling works and it saves gas. Try it sometime. I know buying a car and being seen in your own car is status symbol in this country but do keep in mind that many successful and wealthy city dwellers in first world countries opt not to own or drive a car. Those that do choose fuel efficient, hybrid cars and keep them for longer, using them only for long trips. Minimalism, conservation and planet consciousness are now the IN thing among people who are educated and well off. So take a second look at your benchmarks of status and success. This is not the tacky and superfluous 1980s. If CEOs of blue chip companies can take the train or ride a bike to work, who are you? If you live just two miles away from where you work, what is preventing you from doing the same? Why do you need to change your car so often? Why buy gas guzzlers or cars you cannot truly enjoy because they were not made for our challenging local road conditions? Is your male endowment so miniscule? Does your self-esteem need that much boosting up? Why? Think about it.

For The Private Sector

Employers, why can't your employees work from home at least 30% of the time? Flexi-time saves your company money. Base performance on the timeliness and quality of finished projects, not on punctuality. We do not live in the British Colonial industrial age, so stop running your business like a factory unless it is a factory.

Employers try to offer incentives to attract people who live within your immediate area. They will be far more productive workers than those who have to spend four hours in traffic everyday. Their salaries will be going further into building their quality of life than in gas and car maintenance, leading to happier more fulfilled employees who do not need to keep asking for a raise or salary advance all the time.

If you can, tailor working hours to job function. Not every single employee’s skills are required at the same time. Many employees arrive early and have nothing to do until a certain hour of the day anyway, so use systems like flexi-time and working from home. In a wireless world, there is no need to see everyone’s face every single day. Make work less about micro-managing and more about the end result. The only punctuality that really matters are those of deadlines, targets, presentations and meetings. Otherwise, it does not matter how much time your employee spent in the office to achieve the desired results as long as the end results were achieved to deadline and budget. This not only un-clutters the roads but saves you time and money in office supplies, maintenance and electricity in the long run.

Why not provide showers and dressing facilities at work to encourage more staff members to walk, jog or bike to work and still be able to start the day clean and fresh? Air-condition your premises. Not only are you reducing traffic but enhancing the health and well-being of your staff. Imagine four hours sitting in a car and eight hours sitting behind a desk, feeling harassed and only having time to eat and sleep when you get home. No time for exercise. No time for family. No time to improve skills or enrich life with hobbies. No wonder people are becoming more stressed, fatter, sicker and not as productive. A healthy staff means less sick leave and lower group health costs.

Workers who spend 70% of their life sitting down at a desk or behind a wheel will be unhealthy and less productive in the long run and cost your company money in group health insurance

Last year, England ran a “Walk To Work/School” campaign to boost health and reduce commuter congestion. Why not sponsor one here for those living and working in the same general area? While we wait for the government to provide school buses, why not provide company sponsored school buses for your staff’s children, so your employees don’t have to worry about picking up and dropping their kids to school, often leaving work to do so. You can use these vehicles as your very own moving corporate billboards.

It’s time for more companies to de-zone. Everything does not always have to be located in Port of Spain. Start looking outside the city to build office headquarters, entertainment centers, fine dining and more, especially if you know a lot of your employees come from outside the city. I know a married couple living in Penal, both university graduates with good jobs and lots of disposable income. On a weekend, if they want any kind of quality entertainment, they have to come all the way up north to see a play, show, movie or enjoy a variety of fine dining.

Please, business community, do not forget, there are educated, professionals in the eastern, central and southern parts of the country too, in fact more so than ever. If you give them job options, culture, shopping, recreation and aesthetically pleasing family environments close to where they live, there will be less clutter on our roads. Yes a capital city will always have a certain pull just like London does. But the residents of Croydon don’t have to go to London every time they want to eat at a fine restaurant or see a good play. Neither should the people in Penal have to come to Port of Spain every time they want some quality diversion.

The Government

Billions cheaper than rail is a well functioning bus system with 24/7 service and reliable arrivals and departures down to the last second.

I saved this audience for last as this is the hardest and slowest group to respond pro-actively and pragmatically to any situation. So after we have done our part, here is what the government can do, if indeed they can get their act together. Before you bring in a rail system, let’s get our bus system right first. Truth is that if you cannot even get people who have cars to opt for an efficient bus system, it makes no sense building a rapid rail which is far more expensive to use, because they will not use it either. Using public transport as a first option, is a culture you need to instill in a wider cross section of the population for it to have any impact on the traffic problem.

We need hundreds more air conditioned buses. We need a wireless, digital bus system with a schedule that runs like clockwork, 24/7 along every single route. We need safe bus stops and car parks with CCTV and police patrol. We need on-line digital displays at every bus stop telling you when the next bus will be arriving down to the last minute. If we cannot ensure safety and get carefree Trinis into the kind of meticulous punctuality efficient public transport systems have around the world then don’t even bother with the security issues and exactitude of trains. It will not work!

If Trinis cannot even get a bus system running like clockwork, how can they possibily be ready for the exactitude of trains?

Yes, maxi drivers will be put out of business by an efficient bus system but that may not be such a bad thing. Maxi drivers are hustling to earn a private income. More trips and less vehicle maintenance mean more money for them. Therefore they endanger lives with their pollution-mobiles and reckless driving. Compensate them and funnel them into a new bus system as properly trained bus drivers. If they earned a standard salary, they can be made to adhere to road safety standards. We can use small maxi drivers as hired taxis for in-neighbourhood routes once they maintain a certain standard of service. They can also become corporate sponsored school buses. The ferry service from South to Port of Spain is still a good and far cheaper idea than the rail. Bus stations should be at ferry stations and car parks as well, to encourage more people to park and then use the public transport system.

The city centres of developed countries are dominated by pedestrian traffic.

Traffic is re-routed to the outer fringe of the cities as much as possible.

Streets are allowed to be turned into pedestrian walk-ways on certain days.

Once a decent public transport system is up and running its time to impose a hefty road tax. We need to restrict the number of cars per household. Those who insist, despite a safe and efficient public transport system, on having more than two private vehicles per household and buying a newer model private car every year, should be charged a hefty road and pollution tax. Incentives should be given to those who carpool, and maintain their vehicles for longer. Those who are capable of buying a vehicle and opt to do the planet and country friendly thing and use public transport instead should be given a tax break. Companies that enforce measures to reduce traffic and pollution on our roads should also be given a tax break as well.

Once an efficient public transport system is running it is time to impose heavy road and pollution taxes on those who insist on having a car for every member of their household.

I’ll say it again; the city center should be mostly cobble-stoned, pedestrian walkways with special permission given only to merchant delivery vehicles and business owners to drive and/or park. Parking on the heart of the city’s roads, should be outlawed. It’s time for a meter system every-where else. Taxi stands should be re-routed to the outside of Port of Spain’s downtown hub. It’s high time for Trinis to get up and out and walk like they do in every other metropolitan city they travel to, without shame. If we say we want to be a first world nation let’s start acting the part. In New York, Paris, Amsterdam, people, rich and poor choose to walk or cycle inside their city center rather than drive. Perhaps if more walked instead of seal themselves off in air-conditioned vehicles we would appreciate the value of city aesthetics a little better and feel more motivated to preserve historical landmarks, improve the look, smell, safety and ambience of Port of Spain. We will start to make it a beautiful place to walk through, shop; have a meal on the sidewalk or enjoy outdoor art and music.

Trinidad and Tobago is a small island. We can only accommodate a certain number of cars safely and conveniently on our roads. We can only widen our highways so far. We can only deal with so much noise and pollution. Let’s all do our part to move ahead, out of the traffic and into a free flowing and still beautiful country. If we want truly want it, it will be so.

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