Opinion: Nationalized bus system

POSTED: 08/26/14 7:01 PM

Dear Editor,

Over the years I have seen our leaders propose several solutions to help alleviate traffic congestion. Some of the solutions include stop lights, round-a-bouts, bridges, a moratorium on bringing in cars and tunnels. Several of them were carried out costing tax payers millions of dollars but traffic congestion still remains an issue. In this letter I propose a solution which is a bit different. Instead of just changing our road network, I believe the solution lies in reliable public transportation. This stems from the belief that people buy vehicles because they cannot rely on our current transportation system and if it is improved the population would naturally make use of it and as a result less cars would be on the road.

Currently, St. Maarten has over 300 buses that make up part of our public transportation system. This information was obtained from the Ministry of TEATT and I was a bit surprised that so many buses service a 16 square mile island with two routes to the French side. These licenses were given out over several decades and anyone who uses the public transportation system can tell you this system is unreliable. Buses come at unpredictable times and most people spend too much time waiting on the road in the hot sun for a bus. To improve this system I propose nationalizing the bus system. If the bus system on St. Maarten was nationalized it would allow:

  • bigger and safer buses
  • more routes being traveled (this helps combat the gypsy taxi issue)
  • drivers can be screened and qualified drivers will be allowed to drive buses
  • drivers have fixed hours (no drivers working 24/7)
  • no reckless driving by bus drivers competing for passengers
  • government collects more money through issuing bus passes
  • timed reliable public transportation (e.g. a bus passes every 30 minutes)
  • effective use of bus stops (no stopping all over the place)
  • less traffic, due to some of my previous points
  • fixed fares (some drivers overcharge)
  • bus license owners would not be able to rent their bus license while having another job (no passive income)
  • bus drivers would be paid by government (no false declarations to evade taxes)
  • more efficiency and productivity for the general public

 

These are some of the benefits I was able to think of and I am sure there are more. However, this would be a drastic change in our public transportation system and it requires preparation. Two questions come to mind. (1) What will happen to the bus drivers we already have? (2) Can our current road network accommodate such a system? To answer the first question I would say we need to integrate current bus drivers into this system. The bus system could be managed through a government owned company and current bus drivers would get first preference at jobs at this company.

This is easier said than done as some bus drivers may not want to cooperate; however, in the long run this system benefits them too because they wouldn’t have any overhead cost, in our current system bus drivers have to buy/rent and maintain their own vehicle. The answer to the second question is no, our current system cannot accommodate such a system in its current state. All routes would need to have bus stops and some routes do not (e.g. Sucker Garden). The lack of bus stops is a big issue on St. Maarten. Main roads don’t have enough bus stops and some routes are not covered by buses. There are no buses to Point Blanche or Sucker Garden for example and this allows for gypsy taxis to service these routes.

I am aware that this seems like a lot of work and a big change, all stakeholders would have to be consulted before this can be realized. But the benefits are definitely worth it. The population would get a transportation system that is more affordable and safer and job opportunities through driving, maintaining and cleaning the buses. They would also save time and be less frustrated/stressed out by not having to wait too long on buses or in traffic jams. For the Government of St. Maarten this would be a great way to gain revenues through a bus pass system, enforce regulations on this sector of public transportation and several of the issues plaguing our transportation system would be resolved.

It is also important to note that this solution is much more affordable than some of the solutions that have already been executed by our leaders.

 

Ramzan Juman

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