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Realise potential of water-taxi service
Claiming that the water-taxi service, launched in December 2008, is uneconomic, the authorities have already scaled back on sailings between Port-of-Spain and San Fernando and dropped plans to expand it to Point Fortin and La Brea.
Yet, no alternative has been offered for the thousands of commuters who face the daily frustration of getting from one point to another on the severely congested highways and roadways.
It is the responsibility of the Government, however, to provide affordable and efficient public transport. This objective, which has eluded successive T&T administrations, does not appear to be a priority for the current regime—which is edging toward shutting down, rather than improving on the water-taxi service, one of few such facilities currently available.
While the focus has been on highway expansion, it is doubtful whether that will relieve the chronic public transportation woes. In any case, any solutions that option offers are still some years off.
In addition, the bus service operated by the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC), while it has improved in recent years, offers no escape from the daily traffic.
The water taxi, on the other hand, does just that, and, economic arguments aside, has great potential for success.
The water-taxi service provides an alternative mode of transport which, if properly marketed to attract more passengers, can ease traffic congestion along the north-south route and even east-west, if it were expanded to Diego Martin, as once proposed.
However, little has been done, in all the time that the service has operated, to promote or improve on it. In late 2010, the Government, continuing with arrangements put in place by its predecessors, introduced a fleet of four new high-speed catamarans to replace the second-hand vessels that had been operating since the service began. At that time, Jack Warner, then Minister of Works and Transport, spoke about expansion of the service to Point Fortin.
Since then, however, all the talk has been about huge financial losses, offered as justification for the reduced sailings already implemented. This may well be leading to a total shutdown.
Current Minister of Transport Chandresh Sharma has indicated that the service is heavily subsidised and transports fewer than 1,500 passengers daily between Port-of-Spain and San Fernando. He said it costs $50 million annually to operate the water taxis, while the service brings in just $7 million in revenue.
How much revenue does a highway bring in? Moreover, those figures do not present an accurate picture of the actual benefits of the water taxi. Hundreds of millions of dollars would be saved annually if workers are able to get to their places of employment in time, without enduring considerable stress en route due to miles of traffic gridlock.
The savings in man-hours alone would yield considerable economic and social benefits—facts apparently not considered by the minister.
The value of the services must be considered not just in dollars and cents, but in terms of stress-free travel, on-time arrivals, greater productivity and both present and long-term environmental advantages.
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