In the Tuesday, January 30, edition of “The Daily Herald” there was an article regarding how much time commuters spend in traffic every year, focused on Trinidad and Tobago, but acknowledging that it is an issue throughout Caribbean island nations. Here in SXM, the problem is very much the same.
Traffic congestion is caused by two distinct factors. The first is the inherent limitations of space and topography and the second, the number of vehicles traversing the limited road systems.
The first part is hard to control, as our forefathers never contemplated or planned for the growth in population and the popularity of motorized transport, not to mention the rampant expansion of tourism, bringing so many transient bodies to our shores.
The continued growth in residential units, although good for the economy, goes unabated with little consideration of how all those new owners and vacation renters are supposed to navigate the island and enjoy all it has to offer.
The second part of the problem, the number of vehicles on the island is controllable.
The Dutch government has done an admirable job removing junked vehicles, but so much more can and should be done. Junked cars litter the streets and take up valuable parking spaces that our local businesses desperately need to serve their customers and survive.
It appears that many junked cars are held in the owners’ front yards and sold piecemeal for parts, generating some meager cash flow, at the expense of beautification and sorely needed space.
To my knowledge, there is no large, professionally managed junkyard to take the place of random, front yard junkyards.
Auto theft is a significant problem, becoming more organized and sophisticated, with the end goal often to create a black market for parts.
Wouldn’t it make sense that the government collaborate with private business to provide a land lease and maybe co-ownership of a regulated, sanctioned junkyard close to the national dump? That way the government, after giving proper notice for these abandoned vehicles to be addressed by their owners, could remove the front yard eyesores, with salvage payments to the owners, allowing a real junkyard to stock parts that can be easily purchased in a legitimate setting, reducing the demand for black market, stolen parts.
One might ask how this would be paid for. All future imports of any vehicle should have a progressive duty tax assessed and collected at the point of entry. The duty fee should be based on the declared value, which should be enough to fund the removal of two similar vehicles, either to the new junkyard or the dump. The junkyard itself will create jobs and should turn a profit return to the government.
This duty collection process should also help establish a record of ownership of all vehicles entering the country and proof of payment should be required when obtaining a license, as is an inspection and proof of insurance coverage, currently.
A titling system established for all vehicles, new or used, entering SXM will allow tracking of confiscated motor bikes and other abandoned vehicles, which will ameliorate what is a problem for the police now.
Maybe after a few years of implementing this policy, we will have fewer thefts, fewer abandoned vehicles, less traffic congestion, more places to park, a legitimate source for parts and an enhanced travel experience for locals and tourists alike. The added control of ownership documentation though titling will allow more transparency on the vehicle supply side, as currently there is no control on what vehicles are coming into our ports.
Currently, there are more and more scooters arriving on island, where few rules are followed with dangerous driving risks becoming the norm. Go to the Dominican Republic to see what our roadway future looks like. It is complete mayhem. But, it is also understandable, as who wants to spend so much time caught in a long traffic jam trying to get home from work, or going to buy groceries or just being a tourist headed to a beach or out sightseeing? Scooters weave their way dangerously around the long, stalled lines.
The negative effect on the tourist experience will be the death of the economic engine that drives SXM.
Something has to be done to regulate the number of vehicles, which we can control easily, in conjunction with improved road systems and maintenance, which is more difficult.
We have a new administration, hopefully for the next four years. Please let this be a priority and if I can help in any way, I’ll volunteer.