MLA Austin Harris and his Vehicle Imports and Transportation Committee have come up with a number of recommendations to cut vehicle imports and reduce traffic congestion. At this point, the suggestions are just that. They will only become law or policy if Harris and his government colleagues decide to adopt some or all of them after a period of public consultation.
Harris sat down with the Cayman Compass to talk us through some of the primary recommendations and why he thinks they could make a difference.
Import restrictions for Caymanians
The committee proposes Caymanians be limited to importing a maximum of two vehicles per year. Anyone who imports more than that quota would have to have a licence as a ‘reseller’ or as a collector. Harris said the surge in second-hand imports (71% of all imports in 2019), particularly from Japan, was linked to a proliferation of unauthorised businesses reselling vehicles by the side of the road. This measure is designed to deal with that.
Ban on car ownership for short-term permit holders
The proposal is that people on three-to-six month work permits are not allowed to own vehicles, with the exception of motorbikes or mopeds under 125cc.
“I’m trying to take the short-term permit holders and put them on motorbikes or scooters – smaller vehicles that take up less space, less emissions, but they can still get around,” Harris said.
Ban on vehicle imports for work permit holders
Work permit holders can own vehicles but should not be allowed to import from overseas, the committee recommends. Foreign workers would have to buy from local dealers or the on-island second-hand market.
“This is intended to restrict the import of more and more vehicles into the country on an annual basis,” Harris said.
Ban on importing cars over 10 years old
The suggestion is that importers be restricted to bringing newer vehicles into the country through an initial 10-year age limit. Harris said the aim would be to decrease that to six years once public transport improves. He said the issue was about pollution, as well as congestion, with many older vehicles ending up scrapped on the side of the road and becoming an eyesore for the public before ending up in the landfill.
New requirement for inspection certificate for imported vehicles
Used vehicles imported into the Cayman Islands could be required to have an inspection certificate completed in the country of purchase prior to importation. Harris said the aim was to prevent faulty or unroadworthy vehicles being brought to Cayman and ending up as scrap.
Staggered work hours
One of the main recommendations on congestion is that workers could be split into shifts, with half working from 8am until 3pm and half from 10am to 6pm. Harris said the aim would be to spread the traffic throughout the morning, rather than concentrating it into an hour or so before 9am. He believes a pilot programme with interested businesses would be the best initial approach.
Buses for private schools
There is always a slight reprieve in the morning traffic jams when private schools are on holiday. The committee is recommending they be required to have buses for their students, either through an expansion of the existing system which serves public schools or through incentives to participating schools.
Improved lane efficiencies
Two lanes go into George Town, two lanes come out. That need not always be the case, according to the committee. They are recommending a system of traffic lights to redirect lane traffic so, for example, at peak morning rush hour, three lanes go into town and one comes out. Harris acknowledges this would take careful engineering but said it was preferable to building new lanes that would only be needed for a couple of hours each day.
Improved public transport
The committee discussed some of the options for Cayman, including using larger buses along fixed routes with side roads serviced by dial-a-ride minibuses. One proposal is to use district park-and-ride hubs that could serve as the main terminals for a bus service.
Harris said upgrades to public transport were the subject of a wider government analysis, but he said there was a general acknowledgment that something had to be done.
“The problem with the bus system is the schedules don’t run on time; they are not reliable, not dependable, and they simply don’t fill the gap.”
A Compass survey suggests 85% of vehicles coming into George Town on weekdays have just one occupant. The committee has recommended partnering with gas stations and offering fuel vouchers as an incentive to those who carpool. Harris said working with stratas or major employers to institute ride-share schemes was another option.