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There is widespread consensus on the need for solutions to the chronic traffic–related issues in urban centres like downtown Port-of-Spain, Chaguanas, San Fernando and Scarborough.
These challenges, now commonplace in our daily lives, include conflict between vehicles and pedestrians, competition for limited parking spaces (between long-term parkers like the workers in downtown establishments, and short-stay business and commercial clients), and difficulty of access to shops and businesses, resulting in an avoidance of these “downtown” areas which negatively impact the health of commercial activities.
The relevant authorities must, therefore, be commended for introducing a park-and-ride service over the Christmas holidays, even if only as a seasonal solution.
The objectives of the service were laudable: to reduce vehicular traffic through downtown Port-of-Spain, to improve pedestrian access to and movement through the city centre, and to increase the interaction of patrons with commercial and business establishments in the Central Business District (CBD). The elements of the service were well thought out and executed, the promotion and publicity attractive and effective, and the stakeholder support clearly demonstrated.
It would be useful to assess the efficacy of this initiative. Data on quality of user experience, reliability of scheduled shuttle services (on-time performance), number of users (ridership), and also feedback from the end users and beneficiaries should be collected and analysed so as to enhance the service in the future. There are other stakeholders, including PTSC, who will also be interested in the viability of the service particularly as a more long-term strategy, and such data will inform the decision-making processes.
Few will disagree that our traffic woes necessitate a stringent long-term solution. Permanent park-and-ride services for urban centres can certainly help alleviate some of the congestion on the roads. The objectives of such schemes will be similar but uniquely tailored to each location.
There are divergent views as to the causes of our traffic woes. Contrary to varied opinions and perspectives, an objective assessment will confirm that the physical provision of road space and parking facilities is adequate to satisfy the demands for vehicular movement and parking in the city centre. These woes will not be solved nor will one’s mobility of the city centre be improved merely by the provision of more parking spaces. As an alternative, a permanent park-and-ride service is suggested.
The permanent service will cater to a wide cross-section of users, but it is envisaged that the largest number of patrons would be the workers in downtown establishments. Consider the increase in availability of road space and parking for short-term users if the majority of the downtown workforce used a park-and-ride service. Consider also the enhancement in the physical environment and improved ambiance of the downtown streetscape. Streets are for movement (of people and vehicles), not parking!
The following illustrate the basic requirements of a park-and-ride service for Port-of-Spain and environs:
1. Less accessible locations are preferred for the parking facility such as Mucurapo, Westmoorings, Maraval and Barataria. The Queen’s Park Savannah is not an ideal location for a parking facility due to its proximity to the city centre and its unavailability at certain times of the year.
2. Reserved places in a parking facility and a ride to the workplace for workers. Consider the number of spaces that will be freed-up for short-term parking in the Parkade, Central Bank and Waterfront garages if a park-and-ride service were to be provided for the employees who now park long term in these facilities.
3. Through collaboration between business owners and the PTSC, employees will be guaranteed places to park and seats on a bus operating on firm schedules. The viability of such “contracted’ services will increase and be guaranteed long-term. Also similar arrangements can be operated by companies and state agencies on a private basis and jointly by downtown business owners.
4. Infrastructure costs will be minimal. It is expected that a portion of the operating costs will be covered by the user charges.
The benefits of such a service include:
• A pleasing downtown experience; the area becomes more attractive as a result of greater convenience and safe parking; ease of mobility and safe, vehicle-free, pedestrian movement to conduct shopping/business activities
• Shoppers and business clients will be encouraged to go into downtown because they will be able to park without the fear of being wrecked. This will stimulate growth of local economies as business activities will expand
• There is great potential for expanding the service to other urban centres