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Opinions: Our Automobile Affliction

Last Monday, Prime Minister Perry Christie announced a reduction of duty on trucks to 65 percent and hinted at a possible revision of current motor vehicle duty rates. Our automobile affliction stems not entirely from high duty rates, but more from the lack of a cohesive and functioning mass transportation system.

Bahamians are left with little choice but to purchase older and cheaper vehicles just to make it to work on time. Buying a vehicle is only the initial cost. The high price of fuel, routine maintenance and repair work rapidly escalate the cost of car ownership.

Yet, we continue to carry this economic burden with little outcry. A burden that falls disproportionately on those who can least afford to buy and maintain a vehicle. Every day cars break down on the major roadways of New Providence and generate unnecessary traffic.

We complain of congested roads, borrow for new road infrastructure and then lobby the government to reduce duty. Rightly, hybrid vehicles enjoy a reduced duty of 25 percent and we must continue to incentivize the purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles. But ultimately, there is a fine line between duty rates and the carrying capacity of our road network.

The population of New Providence grew 18 percent between 2000 and 2010, adding nearly 40,000 people and will continue to grow over the next 10 years. Can New Providence support tens of thousands of new cars? Probably not.

We simply do not have the space to build a U.S. six-lane highway; nor does that make sense. Large developing cities, like Panama City and Sao Paulo, are plagued by traffic jams that deter business and frustrate residents.

The underlying solution is to fix the mass transportation system in New Providence. There must be a viable alternative to car ownership.

We urge the government to move towards a public-private partnership. Bus routes and proper bus stops must be established and adhered to; fares should be displayed prominently and schedules followed. But most of all, the downright dangerous and reckless competition for passengers must stop.

The overhaul of the current transportation system will take strong leadership. With every passing year it becomes more apparent that the status quo cannot continue, and yet at the same time it becomes harder to break.

Baha Mar will welcome thousands of new employees, undoubtedly altering traffic patterns at Gladstone Road and JFK. We must have the foresight to establish a system that can move employees from home to the hotel without causing congestion.

The Bahamas seeks to offer an image of a tranquil island nation, a home to an exceptional portfolio of hotels and financial institutions. But all this is negated if no one can reach them due to being stuck in traffic.

– Editorial from The Freeport News

Posted in Opinions

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