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Too much bumper-to-bumper traffic

The trinidad Guardian / Every day we are reminded that transportation is at the heart of human and economic development. Yet, we are frequently stuck in severe bottleneck congestion which negatively impacts our productivity, health and arrival times. Each day we find ourselves asking: Will building more roads and highways stop congestion? Why am I still stuck in traffic since I left home at 4 o’clock in the morning? What can be done to stop all this traffic? Why do I waste my time?

Over the last 30 years, the solution of various governments to transport congestion was to create and expand new or existing roads and highways. This was done without the provision of viable alternative transit options. These construction projects simply increased the amount of road space made available. However, that wasn’t a sustainable or feasible practice-while the supply of vehicles continues to increase, drivers will continue to demand more road space This is important to understand in the face of the number of registered vehicles soaring from 328,156 in 1994 to 786,202 in 2014. Private vehicles made up 75 per cent of vehicles registered during this period while hired vehicles were only three per cent.

Furthermore, many commercial developments are concentrated in urban areas such as Port-of-Spain, requiring individuals to travel long distances to access employment. Adding to this, our current land use patterns do not promote walking, biking or any other forms of sustainable transit. Thus, for many individuals the choice is to use their vehicles, especially when cheaper foreign-used vehicles make such a choice inevitable. This further contributes to high levels of congestion and pollution since more private drivers are gaining access to the limited available road space.

Given the financial constraints of our current economy, expanding transport infrastructure will not be possible as it is costly and physically impossible to expand roads in developed urban areas. Instead of expanding transport infrastructure, the Government should focus on implementing transport demand management (TDM) strategies. These strategies aim to decrease the demand for private vehicle usage. TDM strategies include but are not limited to congestion pricing, emission and pollution taxes, and other modes of transportation.

Before attempting to implement any TDM strategies, we will need to employ and monitor short-run tactics that will encourage public transportation usage. For example, in the short run, the Government can alleviate some levels of congestion by permitting public transportation vehicles to use the shoulders of the highways during peak hours. By doing so, it will encourage commuters to switch from using their vehicles as they are no longer stuck in the same traffic. Additionally, there isn’t any major infrastructure cost attached to this strategy as the existing emergency lanes are not supposed to be used. This strategy, of course, would require monitoring and enforcement to mitigate delinquency among road users.

Moreover, encouraging a charge for parking at the workplace is another supporting strategy that we could employ to decongest roads. Since the Government is one of the biggest employers in the country, charging employees for parking at their jobs will generate substantial revenues. This additional cost to employees encourages them to change their behaviour from solo driving to car sharing or public transport.

For both polices to be fully successful, the Government will need to foster a notion of park and ride where drivers can safely and securely park their vehicles and use the bus. This will require strategically erecting parking infrastructure that are easily accessible in various areas within our country. Once these are implemented, we could then provide more road space for public transit making public transportation more attractive.

These short-run polices and others can provide an incentive for us, private drivers, to switch our behaviour. It does not require building new roads to solve our nation’s congestion problem. Why should we still continue to be victims of bumper-to-bumper congestion when solutions are available?

PATRICK KANGALEE is an Economics graduate from the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus.

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