For politicians anywhere east of George Town, traffic is the number one issue on the minds of their constituents.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t get a complaint about traffic,” says North Side legislator Ezzard Miller, whose constituents face the worst impacts of congestion.
For Miller, solutions must focus on what he views as a failing public transport system.
“It is not functional. The buses break more laws than anyone else on the road in Cayman. They are not reliable, there is no schedule, there are hardly any bus stops,” he said.
For North Siders, he says, there is currently no other choice but to have a car.
“The system of small private buses in the Cayman Islands is obviously not working. Government needs to investigate and find a solution in short order – not take two years to get a report.”
Miller said he would like to see a cross-party parliamentary select committee investigate and propose a dramatic overhaul of the public transport system.
He believes a monorail could be part of the solution and is also calling for restrictions on the import of vehicles from Japan.
“The problem is not a shortage of roads, it is an excess of vehicles,” he added,
Government has moved to clamp down on unlicensed car dealers and is looking into potential restrictions on vehicle imports.
Rivals agree on scale of problem
There is little dispute on either side of the political spectrum that traffic is becoming a major issue in Cayman and that it will not be an easy one to fix.
“Our residents in Bodden Town and the eastern districts are getting tired from waking up so early and the kids suffer most,” said Environment Minister and Bodden Town East legislator Dwayne Seymour, who also supports limits on vehicle imports
“I’m praying we get full approval for the East-West Arterial road and the other connector roads promised,” he said.
Seymour also supports limits on immediate vehicle ownership for “transient workers” and an expansion to the public transport system.
“We can’t build our way out of this,” he acknowledged.
Suckoo cites influx of cheap labour
Alva Suckoo, legislator for Newlands, accepts there is no easy solution.
But he links the problem to an over-reliance on cheap foreign labour.
“The government has obviously taken the view that the more people, the better. That may be good for the economy, but we need to examine the consequences,” he said.
“Ultimately, where we may be headed is to put restrictions in place on the number of cars per household, but until we improve public transport, those type of measures are only going to cause more stress for people. We can’t tell people you can only have one vehicle if we don’t have another way for them to get around.”
From government’s perspective, the island is a victim of its own success.
Booming business, tourism records, low Caymanian unemployment and robust government finances are regularly cited points of pride for the Unity government.
But those factors have come with an increase in population that has impacted Grand Cayman’s infrastructure, including the road network.
Bryan highlights ‘failure to plan’
George Town Central legislator Kenneth Bryan argues that these were impacts that could and should have been predicted.
“The traffic situation is a result of a lack of strategic planning for growth,” he said.
Bryan points out that there are yearly projections for work-permit growth.
“They are talking about possibly another 7,000 work permits in the next year,” he said. “We should know for every 100 people that come here, how many buy cars, how many use public transport. We need to do this analysis. It has been ignored and that is how we got into this position.”
Bryan said the problem went beyond traffic and that government had pursued a policy of growth without planning for the consequences.
He said an open immigration policy had led to an influx of new residents.
“The economy is demanding it and we are responding with open doors. I am not saying that is good or bad, but there are impacts, and if you don’t plan for it, there will be problems.”
He said when planning for Cayman’s future, questions such as, “How many school places are we going to need, how much traffic is there going to be, how is this impacting the rental market?” should be asked.