Gov’t weighs public transport

As new road construction fails to keep pace with traffic increases, and rush hour back ups become a common occurrence everywhere from West Bay to Savannah, the government has said it’s looking at new options for public transportation.

Roads Minister Arden McLean said the point was emphatically driven home this week as traffic being diverted from the new East-West Arterial road construction backed up cars for miles around South Sound and George Town.

‘We have over 30,000 vehicles in this country with a population of just over 50,000 people,’ Mr. McLean said. ‘That is probably one of the highest in the world.’

During a Thursday press briefing, Cabinet ministers said a number of options were being considered including: the development of a park-and-ride system outside of George Town, the creation of a Public Transport Unit to oversee traffic issues in Cayman, the implementation of an improved public bus system, and possibly even the consideration of new rules which could affect household car ownership.

Mr. McLean and Tourism Minister Charles Clifford said two of those options were already in the government’s sights.

‘I think it is necessary now that we look at a park-and-ride,’ Mr. McLean said. ‘We are trying to look at the possibility of finding sufficient property, just on the outskirts of George Town, where people will be able to park at an affordable cost and then we bring them in.’

However, Mr. McLean said he believed many people would not choose to use such a system.

Mr. Clifford said his ministry, which is responsible for public transportation, is in the process of drafting job descriptions for a Public Transport Unit, which will assist the government in forming ‘a more credible, reliable and predictable public transit system.’

The question for government is whether it should take more control of bus transit, which is run by the private sector in Cayman.

‘It would obviously take substantial investment for the government to do it,’ Mr. Clifford said. ‘I can’t say that government will want to go down that road, but it is something that would have to be thrown into the mix.’

Mr. Clifford said he was cognizant of the fact that many bus drivers make their living in the private system, and that government didn’t want to take away their paycheques.

However, the bus system doesn’t operate on a fixed arrival schedule for specific stops and public buses are often difficult to find after eight or nine o’clock in the evenings.

‘The ideal situation would certainly be for the private sector to step up to the plate,’ Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said Thursday. ‘But the private sector is not with great confidence that the public is going to utilise that service to the level to where it would be financially viable for them.’

The ministers also said that while many workers here from foreign countries are accustomed to using public transport and would do so in this country, most Caymanians would not.

‘There would need to be a culture change,’ Mr. Clifford said.

One household, one car

Mr. McLean said he personally would support legislation, similar to what Bermuda has, which requires each household in Cayman to limit its vehicle ownership to one car.

However, he believes most Caymanians would not support such a change.

‘Their dictates as I understand it now is that they prefer owning what they want to own,’ Mr. McLean said. ‘How that works then, is that we’re going to have to spend the resources that are paid in fees and taxes to accommodate them in their wishes.’

‘Certainly, if the public desires that we look at the different methods of ownership of vehicles to restrict it so we don’t have to spend these mega-millions of dollars to improve the road network, I am open for anything.’

Proposals wouldn’t necessarily have to limit each household to one vehicle. Other governments have instituted a luxury tax for families that own a certain number of cars, but ministers said there would be significant resistance to any such plan in Cayman.

‘It really is a tough nut to crack at this point and time,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘I would wager if you were to take a sampling of any segment of society and ask the question, they would not want it.’