Are you ready to give up your car?
Wednesday, December 6, 2006 9:53 AM
Cabinet is gearing up to discuss a raft of controversial measures to reduce traffic congestion.
They could have wide reaching implications for homeowners, businesses and expatriate workers - but some sacrifice is essential if we are to avoid gridlock.
Ideas making it to the table include: eliminating the second-hand car market; imposing a one-year ban on truck permits and making sure car owners live at the address their car is registered to.
The Cabinet will also consider banning the owners of fractional dwelling units, such as holiday homes, from owning cars and making it an offence to rent out an apartment without an assessment number.
The ideas have been floating around for nearly four years but now they are about to become one of the government's top priorities as it moves forward into the New Year.
Premier Ewart Brown, who is also the Transport Minister, made the promise to tackle the traffic issues shortly after taking over leadership last month.
He said he knows not everyone is going to be happy with the forthcoming changes, but something has got to be done to unclog the roads.
We will report on other suggestions in Friday's newspaper, but early reactions to the ideas above have been positive.
Eliminating the second-hand car market, for example, is designed to make people keep the cars they've got for longer because the only way they could get rid of them would be to send them to the dump, thereby forfeiting the resale value.
When asked about the effect the elimination of the second-hand car market would have, Alan Brooks, the chief operating officer at HWP, Bermuda's largest car dealership, seemed unperturbed.
He told us: "The automobile companies existed under the previous set of rules and we'd continue to exist under any new legislation."
He continued: "I fully understand why the government would want to change things. The amount of traffic on the roads is becoming an everyday concern for people; there are letters to the editor all the time. A government that wants to be seen to be doing things will want to tackle things that people are bringing to their attention."
Mr. Brooks says HWP has a 50 per cent share of the market, which means it sells about 1,300 vehicles a year.
If Cabinet agrees on the second hand car ban it could have a dramatic effect on the number of expatriate workers driving cars as it is unlikely a foreign worker would want to buy a brand new car when they don't know how long they are going to stay here without the possibility of selling it when they leave.
But the prospect of dumping your old car because you want a new one concerns environmentalists like our columnist Stuart Hayward.
He told us: "The elimination of the second-hand car market may or may not have an effect. The only thing we can know for sure is that there will be fewer vehicles available at second-hand prices and there will be more vehicles dumped that are still useful. Pricing is an ineffective deterrent in an affluent community."
According to the National Transportation Management Report, a government initiative designed to address the island's transportation challenges, vehicle ownership is growing at an alarming rate - up more than 70 per cent in the last 20 years to nearly 46,000. In the last five years alone more than 10,000 new vehicles have been put on Bermuda's roads.
Truck ownership is another contentious issue. There are nearly 4,000 trucks on the road - another 70 per cent increase in the past 20 years. It's the main reason for the suggested one-year moratorium on truck permits.
Michelle Khaldun, the general manager of the Bermuda Small Business Development Corporation, said she doubts whether such a measure would create much of a "hue and cry."
She said a business that wants to succeed will find a way around needing its own truck by either hiring out or using cars.
"My experience with business people is that they are very resourceful," she said.
Government's biggest challenge could come in enforcing the rules about assessment numbers.
The idea is to change the Motor Car Act 1951 to require a registered owner to live at the address the car is registered to.
Another change is designed to address the problem where people advertise properties for rent 'without an assessment number.'
A transport source told us: "Usually this means that a vehicle is registered to this number already in spite of the fact that the owner of the vehicle doesn't live there. This is often the second car for a household."
Fuller explanations will be needed to convince the public.
Mr. Hayward, whom we asked to comment on the suggestions, said: "I would feel more encouraged if each measure was accompanied with a rationale for its selection and an anticipated effect on traffic. As they stand, these options would seem to do little more than nibble at the edges of the problem. I would welcome seeing arguments for their efficacy."
What do you think? What is the best way to cut traffic on Bermuda's roads? Email the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org