When nothing short of an overhaul will do
In our editorial of May 19, just three weeks ago, we appealed to the authorities responsible for the regulation of public transport and the maintenance of law and order on the highways and byways of Barbados, to move with haste to bring an end to the indiscipline and lawlessness displayed especially by ZR vans plying the various assigned routes.
Our appeal was prompted by concern for the safety of the travelling public following a recent spate of accidents involving mostly ZRs but also minibuses and Transport Board buses. A trend which was emerging suggested that every time a commuter got on a public service vehicle (PSV), he or she was exposing him or herself to a high risk of becoming involved in a traffic accident and, worse yet, being seriously injured or even dying.
“This spate of accidents speaks to the notorious indiscipline within the PSV sector..,” the editorial remarked, before posing the question: “When are the authorities going to stop talking about stamping out indiscipline within the PSV sector –– which they have been doing for years –– and take decisive action? We hope it does not take a fatal crash that shocks the country. But, given the way things are going, this grim possibility cannot be ignored.”
On Tuesday of this week, these prophetic words almost came true. A ZR van carrying mostly Springer Memorial Secondary students and heading to the River bus terminal in the City, overturned on its approach, causing injury to 21 people. The most serious is 14-year-old student Zakiyah Defreitas who remains a patient at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital after doctors had to amputate her badly-injured left forearm.
Arising from this unfortunate accident, it seems the authorities have finally found the determination to take swift and decisive action. The permit for the ZR in question was immediately suspended by the Barbados Transport Authority. At the scene of the accident, Minister of Transport and Works, Michael Lashley, also announced that a beefed-up Road Traffic Act would be brought before Parliament in a few months’ time, with tougher penalties for traffic violations.
Additionally, the driver of the ZR appeared in court yesterday on four charges – furious driving, dangerous driving, driving without due care and attention and driving without reasonable consideration for other road users. The 40-year-old was remanded to HMP Dodds for 28 days. He faces a judge and jury trial in the High Court with the possibility of spending up to 10 years in prison if he is found guilty of the charges.
We welcome the decisiveness with which the authorities have acted this week. However, the madness on the roads has been going on for such a long time that a seemingly skeptical public thinks the situation will revert to the same old after the current dust has settled. Reflecting these sentiments, one caller to a popular talk show on radio today remarked that he expected to see the same lawlessness on the roads a year from now. It is for the authorities to prove the sceptics wrong.
Besides cleaning up the bad habits of drivers on the roads, the authorities need to go much further. The public transport system on the whole is badly in need of an overhaul. There is need, for example, for the process of approving and issuing licences for ZR vans and minibuses to be made fully transparent. Alleged political interference in the process has been linked to the culture of lawlessness because some persons are said to believe that political connections make them untouchable.
The introduction of an effective system of bus scheduling, such as what obtains in more developed countries like Britain and Canada, would inject some much-needed order in the public transportation system by determining times of departure for vehicles from terminals. In drawing from industry best practices in the developed countries, our authorities do not really have to look outside of Barbados. There are many Barbadians with such expertise who have come home as “returning nationals” after spending years working with British public transport, for example. Their expertise should be tapped.
It is unfortunate that it took a near tragedy this week to spur our authorities to get serious about cracking down on the lawlessness and indiscipline plaguing the public transport sector. Their response confirms there is validity in the old saying that out of bad always comes some good. Seize the moment! Enforce the laws! Effect much-needed reforms! Make public transport in Barbados a model for the Caribbean! Where there is a will, there is always a way!