Residents of Grand Cayman can expect much longer traffic delays and even greater road congestion if government does not act quickly, warned Prospect legislator Austin Harris, speaking Thursday before the Legislative Assembly.
“If our population demographics continue to grow, we will see the level of traffic congestion increase by upwards of 200 percent over the next five years, unless we are prepared to take a long, hard look at what we can live with and what we [can] live without,” Harris said.
A joint private members motion – combining similar proposals submitted by the Prospect MLA and East End legislator Arden McLean – sought to restrict vehicle imports to the islands and compel government to explore solutions to the roads issues.
Much of the congestion woes are down to Cayman’s growing number of vehicles, Harris said, estimating there are more vehicles than people in Cayman, saying there is now 1.2 vehicles for every resident.
Citing statistics he said were gathered from various government departments and shared in Finance Committee, Harris said there were currently 42,459 registered, roadworthy vehicles and 37,406 unlicensed vehicles in the Cayman Islands, meaning there are nearly 80,000 vehicles for Cayman’s estimated population of around 63,000 people. An increasing flow of vehicle imports has not only overwhelmed the roads but overwhelmed local services, such as the Department of Vehicle and Drivers’ Licensing, Harris said.
From January 2017 to August 2018, he said, the DVDL processed 109,773 vehicle-related transactions. Harris encouraged greater reliance on electronic resources to expediate DVDL processes.
Another facility that has struggled to keep up is the George Town landfill.
“Whilst today we are importing vehicles at an average rate of 398 vehicles per month, we are only disposing of an average of 30 vehicles per month into the George Town landfill,” he said.
“The remainder, I believe … can be found on the roadsides of our once beautiful communities gathering like dust in the form of derelict vehicles, which are not only unsightly but represent a significant health risk both in terms of vermin as well as potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes during the rainy season.”
Vehicles imports increased more than 60 percent in four years, Harris said.
In 2018, he said, 4,783 vehicles were imported to the islands compared to 2,946 vehicles in 2014.
He suggested a number of non-infrastructure ideas that could be explored in the short-term, including incentives for carpooling, staggered work hours, optimised traffic light management, and stricter enforcement of existing road laws.
Harris also proposed import restrictions, such as by age and fuel type, be explored by a government committee and implemented by 2020.
He called the suggestion of prohibiting work permit holders from owning cars “draconian”.
“In order to make this argument work, you must first have a dependable public transport system, and despite our best efforts to date, we cannot see that we have achieved this, certainly not in mass transit anyway,” he said, adding that improvements to the system are in the works.
Minister encourages ‘Complete Streets’
Infrastructure Minister Joey Hew expanded on ideas that are currently being discussed between his ministry, the Ministry of Transport and the Public Transport Unit.
He first highlighted a ‘Complete Streets’ initiative to make roadways safer and more accessible to different types of traffic.
“The NRA [National Roads Authority] has adopted the ‘Complete Street’ as its standard for future roads … Complete Streets are streets for everyone. They are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities,” Hew said.
He called for a holistic approach to manage the roads dilemma, including investments in mass transit and in transportation infrastructure.
“We must look at things such as hop-on and hop-off buses along the Seven Mile corridor and also into George Town. We must start considering things like airport park-and-rides and downtown park-and-rides, water taxis, an airport express from the hotels running on a regular basis,” he said, adding that such measures were already being discussed with Transport Minister Moses Kirkconnell for consideration in the George Town revitalisation plan.
As for the issue of growing vehicle imports, Hew said conversations had begun with the Department of Commerce, and Customs to crack down on unlicensed dealers importing vehicles.
He pointed to “a growing trend of persons importing cars as a side business and selling them on the curbs of the streets”.
Hew also indicated government was working on incentives to increase the number of compact, electric and hybrid vehicles. He said charging stations were being installed around government departments to accommodate the National Energy Policy goal to convert 7% to 10% of government vehicles to electric or hybrid.