Our Readers' Opinions
November 19, 2013
Urgent call for action on public transportation

Tue Nov 19, 2013

Editor: While there are some issues – though critical – that are sometimes unintentionally left off the train of prevailing national issues, there are others that have been in stock for far too long for their avoidance to be a matter of chance. One such issue is that of the public transportation system of St Vincent and the Grenadines – nothing shy of a mighty contradiction in the context of a progressive state.{{more}}

I returned to Trinidad and Tobgao just two Sundays ago – having spent a week in St Vincent attending the funeral of my late father-in-law, only to be greeted at the Piarco International Airport by news of six road fatalities within a period of less than 24 hours. I could not help but immediately think of my unfavourable observations on the roads of SVG (within that one week), and the many deficiencies associated with the public transportation system of my beloved homeland – an issue that has been like a thorn in my flesh for quite some time.

I am extremely concerned about what obtains as a public transportation system in St Vincent and the Grenadines. My concern stems from what I have observed and now describe as the absolute recklessness and insularity of many of our minibus operators, not to mention that very little has been done by local authorities to regularize and regulate these operations. This is by no means a political matter; it is rather a matter of national development, public safety, and citizen security.

Let us not forget that gruesome and unneccesary Old Year’s Day tragedy back in 2009, in which Michelle Pompey, Romario Marson, and Sonithie Ballantyne – passengers of minibus H5668, “Big One” – lost their lives. In what was for me a vivid and haunting account of the final moments leading up to this tragic event, the Searchlight newspaper’s January 8, 2010 edition reported surviving passenger Julian Lewis as stating:

“I hear like something go ‘pop’, then the driver tried to get control of it.”

“Then when he pull back he hand, the van lift up and roll and then start to skate.”

“Before it stop, I see when the first person drop out. That was the first person dead. Then I get dizzy.”

Unfortunately, while there was a widespread and prolonged national outpouring of sadness and disdain at this tragedy and the alleged cause, Lewis’ account seemed to have conjured insufficient impetus to spring the relevant authorities into the rightful action. Several other incidents involving minibuses have since occured.

While I am fully cognizant of the intricate socio-economics behind the local public transportation industry, a solitary source of income for many local households, we cannot continue along the current lines of informality.

It is imperative that we prioritize safety on our roads, while building excellence in service to the general public. We must also understand that as we now seek to attract greater foreign direct investments, with the coming on stream of our new international airport, a newly proposed city in Arnos Vale, increased tourism products and services, and the expansion of the tertiary education product locally (with foreign satellite campuses and future prospects for local university development), there is an urgent need for us to shift gears in order to meet (and even surpass) the highest global standards.

Our local public transportation system is one key area that has for far too long been overlooked in the grand schema of national development. The reckless driving, excruciatingly loud music, overloading of minibuses, irregular operating hours and the general lack of operational standards and guidelines must all come to an end in order for us to better facilitate the achievement of even our most fundamental national development goals.

I stand today in full support of a revamped, regularized and regulated public transportation system in St Vincent and the Grenadines. This is likely to be both time and resource-intensive, and would require immense ingenuity towards the formulation of a surrogate system that is both socially responsive and economically viable for all related stakeholders.

I hereby call on the relevant authorities and stakeholders to promptly get the ball rolling on the matter of the renewal of the local public transportation system or risk a future crisis that can potentially stall critical areas of national development. I keenly await positive high-level action on this matter.

Jamal Browne

UNDP Caribbean Youth Think Tank Representative for

St Vincent and the Grenadines