EDITORIAL: Transport system in dire straits
Barbados’ public transportation system on which thousands of people depend daily, is in urgent need of an upgrade. It is clear that the solution must come through a state/private sector initiative.
Several signs of the magnitude of the problem were laid bare in recent weeks with the severe problems commuters have been experiencing in getting adequate coverage from the state-owned Transport Board buses to and from their destinations. This is not just a headache for passengers but can impact on productivity and cost employers both in terms of lost time and expenses.
For many commuters caught in this tangle, the obvious solution is to try and get their own vehicle. Given this island’s already very crowded roads, that only adds to long-term issues. These range from the increased use of petrol which requires more foreign exchange usage, higher level of emissions and higher cost in road maintenance.
Unfortunately, our bus service has an image problem. Many love to hate riding the bus system, whether on the Transport Board, minibuses or ZR vans given the complaints about timeliness, inefficiency, overcrowding, cleanliness, noise and general disregard for regulations. However, it is obvious that an efficient bus service is key to improving mass transportation.
Government needs to focus on making the bus service better. Minister of Transport Mr Michael Lashley must take the lead. If it’s a success he will claim the laurels; if it fails, the darts will be thrown at him.
Funding is one of the biggest issues facing the Transport Board. We must however be realistic and determine whether we can continue this business model, since the public is in no mood for additional taxation to fund the Board. This raises the question of charging the economic cost for the provision of the service since nothing comes free.
At the same time, Mr Lashley needs to look at an expanded role for the private sector in the mass transit system. He must also ensure the Transport Authority undertakes its regulatory role to ensure private operators comply with all regulations.
If our public transportation system is freed of many of the problems which now affects it, then more people will turn to mass transit.
Before embarking on purchasing more buses or dispensing additional permits to private sector operators, the minister should also explore what obtains in Bogota, Colombia or Guangzhou, China, two cities with reputed excellent public bus systems.
We cannot continue making excuses and asking for patience and understanding with a mass transportation system which is nothing less than a national disgrace and is in need of major change.