Dampening of an “insatiable appetite” for private vehicles, car pool lanes, a park and ride system for The City and expediting critical upgrades to road networks, are some of the measures being considered by Government to tackle this country’s longstanding traffic congestion woes.
This morning Minister of Transport and Works, William Duguid explained that the problem which has gone unchecked for years is costing the country in terms of production and damage to the environment. He revealed that currently due to Barbados’ small land mass as well as an increase in younger drivers, the current vehicle growth trend of 1000 per year is unsustainable.
“Barbadians desire to own cars for many reasons and as a result the vehicle population has grown steadily to over 120,000 registered vehicles today. With rise in affluence, not only are more Barbadians owning cars, they are also using them more intensively and driving more from a much younger age. The effects are telling,” he said while delivering the feature address at the National Consultation on Land Transport, held at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
The Minister warned that while Barbados has not yet researched the cost of such congestion, the bill comes in the billions for larger countries with a similar vehicle growth rate.
“The insatiable appetite for more cars has led to an uphill battle against gridlock across the island. In fast growing economies like China, the car population grows at more than 20 per cent per year and peak hour traffic in mega cities like Beijing and Shanghai crawls at 5km per hour. The congestion invoice in the US stands at 78 billion each year while congestion costs are estimated at one per cent of GDP in European countries like France and England,” he explained.
He further lamented that Barbadians spend “too much time stuck in traffic jams, enough time and fuel that could have presented as an alternative investment opportunity. Barbados needs to urgently address its own congestion invoice and associated congestion costs.”
Minister Duguid noted that it is not feasible to build new roads to accommodate the increasing vehicle population, as 2.2 per cent of the island’s small land mass has already been allocated to roads. This is in the context of being the 15th most densely populated country in the world. He warned that this would mean that Government must fasttrack its road rehabilitation and it could eventually cost the taxpayer more in the long run.
“While Barbados may not be able to build many new roads, going ahead, the pace of road rehabilitation must intensify… The more cars Barbadians own, the more extensive the fuel tax coverage and the higher the charges would be. This is the key trade-off we have to make to maintain smooth roads. However, even with more extensive fuel tax, the current vehicle growth rate is not acceptable,” he lamented.
Duguid contended that it was critical that public transport be made more attractive and while plans to replenish the Transport Board’s dwindling bus fleet with electric buses is a medium to long-term solution, plans were now in place to partner with select private transport owners to augment the woefully inefficient service.
The Minister also revealed that GPS technology would be pressed into service providing the necessary monitoring to ensure that negative behaviour is not part of the private public transport partnership. In addition, front and rear facing cameras will be placed on the buses used in the project.