My last contribution underscored the need for us to better manage the fear of what lies on the other side of change. And while I continue to plead with our leaders to speak to us with words that inspire us, words that provide the assurance that things will get better, I get the sense that some of them are drowning while others are paralyzed by the fear of change.
I have made the point before and I will continue to do so; Barbados needs out-of-the-box thinkers and out-of- the-box solutions if things are going to get better. What I find ironic, is that while most of us generally accept that a two year old smart phone is essentially an ancient relic when compared to the latest model, we continually refuse to accept that our traditional methods, processes and policies are antiquated and unsuitable for the environment we now find ourselves in.
It is for this reason that I get the sense that our first impression of unorthodox ideas will be that they are overly ambitious and unpalatable. My friends, this is the fear of change at work and we do ourselves a great injustice if we do not effectively manage that fear in this new global reality. Today the mission across most sectors is entrenched on making what is good, even better. There are no safe harbours for complacency or a settle-for-type-of-mentality with customers continually demanding the latest and the best.
In essence, we will have to be very agile and we will have to be constantly innovating and adapting our processes. Now fortunately or unfortunately for me, I am not seeking to become an elected representative for any of our (30) constituencies in the next general election and so I am not bonded by collective agreement, political protectionism, or party vetting. The recent discussion about whether or not the Transport Board should be privatized is not only timely but it offers a sober reminder of the kind of paralysis that can manifest itself when leaders fear what may lie on the other side of change.
Notwithstanding the theatrics and optics, can any of us deny that our public transportation system is in dire need of reform and upgrade? I guess it may be politically expedient to allay the fears of commuters by giving the assurance that the Transport Board will not be sold on the one hand, while on the other, we throw an out-of-the-box suggestion under the bus. Don’t get me wrong, our public transportation system is the only means for some of us to get to and fro. But, is it acceptable in 2017 that commuters are forced to wait until 4.40pm to get a bus that was scheduled to leave the terminal at 2.40pm?
I wish to declare — and I am certain that most will agree — that given our access to technology and passenger commute data, those in authority must be aware of the number of persons using a particular bus service and the peak times and the off times related to the established schedules. Presumably, it should not be difficult to optimize the bus schedules to provide improved reliability and in so doing, making what is good even better.
I get the sense much like what obtains in the airline industry that once the plane is on time or drawing the parallel, the bus is on time as scheduled; all other considerations are secondary when we get to our destination safely and on time.
Mr Ryan Straughn’s question about whether or not the government needs to own a bus to deliver subsidized bus fares to citizens is, to my mind, out-of-the-box and, albeit that it was criticized and sidelined, Mr Straughn should be applauded for having the courage to table it. I believe that we have skirted around this vexing issue for far too long and perhaps it is because we fear what may lie on the other side of transforming our public transportation system.
I have been taught that one of the best ways to effectively manage the fear of change is to establish a plan that caters for the possible repercussions should the change be initiated. To this end, I invite you to consider the following out-of-the-box suggestion.
A few years ago, one of our distribution companies decided to increase its efficiency and cut expenditure by disposing of its fleet of trucks. The managers decided to sell the trucks to their drivers at reduced rates and drafted contracts for delivery services with those drivers who were made redundant and paid out. This change in their operations achieved several things. The company no longer had to deal with truck maintenance issues et al; their operational costs were reduced and the former drivers became entrepreneurs.
This begs a question; could something similar be done with the Transport Board? Now before we label this question as obtuse, let us consider the repercussions of such a move. If the buses are sold to the drivers and if the drivers form partnerships or cooperatives, they automatically become responsible for the care and maintenance of the buses. And in anticipation of the challenges associated with parking their buses, a nominal parking fee could be established at all existing terminals.
Terminal operations could continue under the aegis of the Transport Authority and the current auxiliary staff compliment could be retained or absorbed into the upgraded transportation system. Existing terminals could be incorporated and new ones constructed to facilitate the establishment of strategic hubs and transfer points, so that a bus should no longer have to traverse from Bridgetown to Pie Corner, unless it is specially designated as an express with predetermined stops and pickups.
Commuters who reside in the outskirts and rural areas would now have the option of using the express service to get home. As currently obtains with airlines using our airport, all buses arriving and departing from the terminals would be subject to a handling fee. Permits that take the profitability and optimization of routes, the schedules, peak times, off times, commuter demographics (pensioners, school children et al) could be created and issued to operators.
Tax concessions, waivers on parts, lubes and fuel could also be provided as an incentive to those private operators that accept routes considered less profitable. As it relates to our pensioners and school children, those who have smart phones could be issued special barcodes which can interface with new GPS enabled scanners to be placed on all private buses. Special bus cards bearing the barcode could also be issued to those without smart phones.
Issuance of the barcodes will be strictly regulated by the Transport Authority and all barcode usage will be automatically uploaded to the existing database where a tally is made and payment forwarded to private owners as per the agreed instrument. As for the unit payment to be made to the private operators per pensioner or school child, a thorough review of the revenue and expenses for all routes currently being served by the Transport Board could offer some insight.
Presumably, the Transport Board is aware of how many pensioners and school children are currently riding on buses from the existing ticketing system. As such, it should not be difficult to determine the actual amount that is currently subsidized for each pensioner or each school child.
Now while the aforementioned is just a quick snap shot, I am certain that it could do with further refining, tweeting and editing. And albeit that as an out-of-the-box suggestion it is likely to be ignored or ridiculed, I challenge all Barbadians to look at the things around us that are in urgent need of change and offer suggestions for public consideration.
Together, let us conquer our fear of what may lie on the other side of change and let us usher in our new and upgraded Barbados.