Isn’t it time to move past PH-taxis and create comprehensive transit system?

Legally our country prescribes that only vehicles with an ‘H’ as the first letter of the registration plate can be used as taxis, and the drivers must have a special licence which designates them as being allowed to operate such vehicles.

Photo: A taxi driver in San Fernando waits for passengers during the Covid-19 pandemic on 23 April 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

People operating their personal vehicles as PH-taxis have neither the correct drivers’ licence, nor the correct registration for their vehicles.  The recent brutal rape of an 18-year-old Venezuelan reminded me that successive governments continue to preside over this travesty. 

Over many years I have read and heard comments by transportation specialists, Dr Trevor Townsend and Dr Rae Furlonge, about modernising our transportation system. One of the basic fixes they advocate is the establishment of a transit authority to manage the nation’s transportation system.

How difficult can that be? The issue has come before the Parliament in different iterations but with few outcomes. 

A quick search of the edited records of parliamentary debates reveals several discussions and commentaries about transportation but very little is accomplished.

In the absence of regulation, the illegal PH-Taxi system thrives. One former Minister of Works and Transportation even advocated for its legalisation. 

Photo: A taxi driver plies his trade.

Undeniably the PH-taxi industry provides a service but the cost of providing that service is tremendous. The public has no way of knowing if the PH-taxi is road worthy, if it is properly licensed, if the driver has a criminal record or is a sex offender, or even if the person is medically fit and emotionally stable. 

On the other hand, boarding an ‘H-car’ provides some assurance that the driver has gone through a process and is legally authorised to operate a taxi—but there just aren’t enough of them to match the needs of the travelling public. 

The fixes to this historical problem are actually easier than we believe, but because of the societal and political entanglements regarding transport that have developed over the last 60+ years, the will to resolve the problem has been very weak. 

We know that the creation of a transportation authority will begin to order the current chaos. A major responsibility of such an authority would be to develop a comprehensive transit system. 

Most developed countries around the world all have some form of transportation authority; why not us? The reliance on spontaneous growth as a strategy has not worked, so our next option is to formalise the systems, structures and processes around transportation.

Photo: Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan (right) talks to reporters at the commissioning of a bridge on Mamoral Road.
(via Ministry of Works and Transport)

If this all sounds bureaucratic and time consuming, it need not be in this age of technology and digitisation. All that is needed is the willingness to re-imagine and redesign our transportation system to serve the needs of our citizens. 

A soft entry point could be to refurbish our bus shelters, create specific taxi stops, and insist that only they be used as the drop off and pick up points for the travelling public. In Grenada, this is already in practice. 

Another soft solution might be an app to track the PTSC buses, so a citizen can plan to use the facility knowing for certain that the bus will arrive. 

I am confident that eventually our country will implement solutions, but until then my heart will continue to race and my level of anxiety will increase every time I am forced to use a PH-taxi in the absence of safe and reliable public transportation.  

Maybe all the victims of rape or robbery via PH-taxis should consider suing the state.

Reframing the Conversation between State and Citizen

As our country recognizes our 58th year of Independence, the conversation about re-framing the relationship between state and citizens is a necessary one. It should really have been an ongoing one which encouraged all of us to dream big and dream about a brighter day. One commentator has cleverly described our country as being “in dependence” while the Prime Minister almost simultaneously advised us to “wean ourselves” from the state. They are both partly right. The time has come for us to relearn self-reliance, as well as how and where to apply it.

From the business leader to the beggar, we have had more than 48 years of conditioning with the message “vote for me and I will set you free”. This reliance on the state will not change overnight nor without upheaval. Focusing on education and Laventille is necessary but not sufficient, because the conditions which spawned the reality of the Laventillian ecosystem, exist like a poisonous mist across both islands, and those conditions have become deeply ingrained.

Courtesy Stephen Phillips – Hostreviews

The system must be re-designed to reduce inequity and improve our quality of life. When citizens are advised to stay in their room if they exhibit signs of ill health, we seem to have forgotten that for the 20% who live on or below the poverty line there is no room in which they can self-isolate because of their shared accommodation. When we talk about blended learning and students using a device to communicate with their teachers, we must consider that there are both students and teachers who do not have access to a device. When we talk about logging on to the internet, we need to consider that there are homes in which internet access is not available.

The conversation is not simply about Laventille, education and teachers, it ought to be about the systemic changes that are necessary in order to remove the deep inequities which exist in our society. IndexMundi reports that 20% of our population lives under the poverty line and have done so since 2014. This is up 3 percentage points from 2007 when it was measured at 17% of the population living under the poverty line. The story this tells is that if you meet 10 people on your daily encounter, 2 of them do not have enough money for food, shelter and clothing.

The conversation has to be about including the beggar and the business person in a conversation about collaborating to make import substitution a reality; moving our manufacturing and production up the value chain and our individual diversification strategies including diversifying away from state dependence. We can no longer maintain the fantasy that 1-2% of the population is the cause of all ills. A capable government knows how to distribute resources with equity while not taking away incentive to do better. The beggar must be able to access food and shelter; the business person should be able to access good infrastructure to do viable trade, in or out of the country, yet beggar and business person alike must be incentivized to contribute tangibly to society.

There is a popularly held view that there is inequality in accessing state services and opportunities. As long as these views persist then the feeling of inequity will also persist. So, along with the necessary system changes, we must ensure that there is accountability, collaboration and transparency as we chart the next 5 years of our independence. 

The success of this reframed conversation requires a deep conversation with our citizens under the guidance of a transformational leader.