Interview: Rohan Sinanan
Which key infrastructure projects are being prioritised over the next 18 to 24 months?
ROHAN SINANAN: We are prioritising major highway construction, most notably the San Fernando to Point Fortin Highway, which will open up the entire southwest peninsula and stimulate economic activity. It will also shave two hours off commuting time between the two destinations. We are also extending the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway to Manzanilla, which will run all the way to the town of Mayaro on the east coast, a notable contributor to the oil sector. Another project in the works is the Curepe interchange, which is an investment worth approximately TT$500m ($74.7m).
These three projects will be a huge driver for the construction sector. By the end of 2017 we are also looking to begin construction of the Valencia to Toco Highway, which will open up the north-eastern region of the country, together with a port on the Toco peninsula, facilitating travel to Tobago. The former will stimulate local commerce while also opening up the area to tourists, whilst the port will provide a ferry service from Toco to Tobago that will only take around an hour. We are also looking at opening up the northwest peninsula with the Chaguaramas Causeway. The region has great potential for tourism development, but is currently held back by transport bottlenecks, which the causeway will address, opening up prime land for tourism. We are also changing the way we build our highways, dividing them into sections for tender to spur the participation of local contractors. Previously, many contracts were design-build, and the price prohibited many capable local contractors from participating due to the financing they required.
How is Trinidad and Tobago preparing its public transport system for the future?
SINANAN: We were going to proceed with a rapid rail project, but the current fiscal situation has prevented us from pursuing this in the short term. The focus now will be on improving and enhancing the bus service. The government is revamping the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) internally, and purchasing a new fleet of buses. The PTSC has a mandate to move the entire fleet to compressed natural gas (CNG), though due to financial and logistical factors, new bus orders will also incorporate diesel, as we have yet to equip Tobago with sufficient CNG refuelling stations.
We are also exploring the possibility of introducing a mobile bus application to give commuters live updates for their bus routes, including arrival times and delays. Every three months there are another 10,000 cars entering the roads, so mass transportation is the only solution for the country’s traffic congestion. We would also be open to suggestions or offers made by the private sector that would lead to better service at comparable or more economical prices.
To what extent is T&T’s regulatory framework prepared for the emergence of internationally recognised mobile ride-sharing applications?
SINANAN: Our legislation needs to be adjusted to accommodate ride-sharing applications, and we are currently analysing examples of jurisdictions that did this successfully. However, ride-sharing applications like Uber need to comply with the laws in T&T. Until we have crafted legislation governing such applications and services, they will be operating in this country illegally, and the authorities will have to respond accordingly. While there is a clear benefit to these services, we need proper legislation to ensure drivers are sufficiently vetted and competent.
Additionally, with international ride-sharing applications there is a loss of foreign exchange. Uber, for example, takes approximately 25% of the driver’s fee, which then goes offshore. Clearly, local drivers also need to prepare themselves to compete with this service, even if it is in the form of a rival application, and we are also looking at ways to assist them with this.
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