News Releases

UWI Expert: Transit Authority needed to fix broken PH, public transport system

For Release Upon Receipt - March 17, 2021

St. Augustine

Trinidad and Tobago needs a national Transit Authority to govern the public transportation sector and protect commuters like 18-year-old Ashanti Riley, who it is alleged lost her life at the hands of a “PH” driver. This was the opinion of UWI Senior Lecturer Dr Trevor Townsend.

Dr Townsend, who lectures in Transport Engineering at the St Augustine Campus’ Faculty of Engineering, said in a recent op-ed to the press:

“The existence and prevalence of the ‘PH’ system is a symptom of the failure of the state to adequately plan and manage the public transportation sector. Even the current plans outlined by the Honourable Minister of Works and Transport (MOWT) for a regulatory system fail to address the fundamental weakness. What is required, first and foremost, is the development of a Transit Authority tasked with the responsibility of planning, administering and coordinating the public transportation sector.”

Riley went missing on November 29 after she took a PH taxi in San Juan. Her remains were found in early December in Santa Cruz. The suspect is a 32-year-old PH driver.

Dr Townsend, who is also the Chair of the Association of Professional Engineers of TT (APETT) Transportation Sub Committee, said the calls for regulation from Government following the incident were not enough to deal with the fundamental issues of public transportation in the society.

“This unfortunate criminal event has highlighted that there are many areas in the country without adequate access to public transport,” he said. “It highlights that residential and commercial development has taken place without the requisite implementation of adequate facilities and services to transport people who are not private car users. It has been observed that even developments like public sporting facilities, for example, do not have a broad enough assessment of how people will travel to and from these facilities other than by their own private car.”

He added, “Passing new laws and regulations is not management and planning.”

This inadequate servicing of commuters’ needs has led to the growth of PH taxis. The transportation engineer points to figures that showed 9 percent of commuters use PH as their main mode of travel compared to 14 percent that used maxi taxis, 12 percent that used taxis and 1 percent that travelled by bus. In cases where only one mode of public transportation is used, PH taxis were the second most used at 7.9 percent, while taxis were first at 9.3 percent. Most concerning, women account for 69 percent of PH passengers compared to men at 31 percent.

“Significantly higher numbers of PH car users are female,” said Dr Townsend.

Elaborating on the gap in management and planning of the transportation sector, he pointed out that there was no unit within MOTW or person, other than the Minister, with specific responsibility and powers over the sector. Likewise there were no personnel with the necessary skills employed at the ministry and no specific policies dedicated to public transportation.

“So while there are many suggestions, ideas and opinions about how ‘PH’ can be ‘regularised’,” said Dr Townsend, “any new regulations will be made against a backdrop of no policy, no implementing and monitoring agency, no day-to-day data collection and analysis, no understanding of stakeholders’ requirements and no planning for the future.”

Looking at the agencies that make up the MOTW, he said none of them “have the institutional capability of managing and planning the public transportation system”.

The idea of Transit Authority is not new. As Dr Townsend pointed out, it was identified as a strategic initiative under Theme III in the government’s Vision 2030 National Development Strategy 2016-2030. The authority, he said, would also be guided by a National Transportation Plan (also identified as a strategic initiative). The plan should address areas such as the role of private sector providers, the targeted use of subsidies to encourage efficient travel behaviour, and minimum levels of public transportation service supply to communities.

“We can solve the transportation crisis by developing and implementing proper policies aimed at ensuring proper service levels for both urban and rural dwellers without a debilitating drain on the state coffers,” said Dr Townsend, arguing that the challenge to put structure to the system is far from overwhelming.

He added, “Our population is under 1.5 million people - that is not high. We have the necessary resources and knowledge. What we need is the will to take decisive action to change the current course of laissez-faire or ‘uniformed’ policymaking and replace it with scientific, data-driven approaches aimed at attaining measurable objectives.”




About The UWI

The UWI has been and continues to be a pivotal force in every aspect of Caribbean development; residing at the centre of all efforts to improve the well-being of people across the region.

From a university college of London in Jamaica with 33 medical students in 1948, The UWI is today an internationally respected, global university with near 50,000 students and five campuses: Mona in Jamaica, St. Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago, Cave Hill in Barbados, Five Islands in Antigua and Barbuda and its Open Campus, and 10 global centres in partnership with universities in North America, Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe.

The UWI offers over 800 certificate, diploma, undergraduate and postgraduate degree options in Culture, Creative and Performing Arts, Food and Agriculture, Engineering, Humanities and Education, Law, Medical Sciences, Science and Technology, Social Sciences, and Sport. As the Caribbean’s leading university, it possesses the largest pool of Caribbean intellect and expertise committed to confronting the critical issues of our region and wider world.

Ranked among the top universities in the world, by the most reputable ranking agency, Times Higher Education, The UWI is the only Caribbean-based university to make the prestigious lists. In 2020, it earned ‘Triple 1st’ rankings—topping the Caribbean; and in the top in the tables for Latin America and the Caribbean, and global Golden Age universities (between 50 and 80 years old).  The UWI is also featured among the top universities on THE’s Impact Rankings for its response to the world’s biggest concerns, outlined in the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including Good Health and Wellbeing; Gender Equality and Climate Action.

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(Please note that the proper name of the university is The University of the West Indies, inclusive of the “The”, hence The UWI.)