Motorists must brace themselves for “draconian” anti-traffic measures unless they take voluntary steps to cut their car use.
Randy Rochester, head of the Traffic Control Department (TCD), said that the island is fast approaching gridlock and that a congestion charge or moratorium on car ownership may now be inevitable. However, Mr. Rochester said that the Government must first give people every chance to reduce their car use voluntarily.
That chance will begin this Friday with the Burn Fat Not Fuel day. The initiative — jointly sponsored by the Department of Transport and the Department of Health — is designed to highlight the environmental and health benefits of driving less. Public transport will be free for the day and public figures will lead by example by leaving their cars at home. Critics say that the day amounts to little more than a gimmick in place of any real policy.
However, Mr. Rochester said that the day will be an important test. He said: “The minister [of Transport: Premier Ewart Brown] will be looking at the numbers for Friday — seeing how many people got on board and how many car journeys were saved. If it proves to be beneficial then they could extend it.
“This could become regular, and pave the way for something permanent. We have to do something — we can’t just sit here and watch the island get more and more congested. For years people have been talking about doing something and nothing has been done. Now we are getting to the point where we can’t go on much longer.”
Mr. Rochester said that there are now 47,800 vehicles on Bermuda’s roads. Of those, 22,700 are private cars. TCD calculations forecast that number will increase to over 26,000 by 2015. Mr. Rochester agreed that it was now almost inevitable that the island would follow London and other cities that have introduced a charge for driving into central areas at peak times. The island’s new radio tags — designed to catch drivers who do not licence their vehicles — could easily be adapted to enforce a charge for driving into Hamilton during rush hour. Mr. Rochester said that another plausible measure would be a moratorium on private cars — capping the number permanently at a given date. Any one wanting to drive a car after that date would have to apply for a licence — which would likely be given out by lottery or a point system.

The good of the island
“Those draconian measures will not be popular,” Mr. Rochester said. “But we may have to do these things for the good of the island as a whole. What we don’t want to do is go straight for the draconian measures. We want to give people a chance first, to say we tried everything else and it failed. That’s why a day like Friday is a good chance for people to get on board. If enough people show they are willing to leave their cars at home then maybe we won’t need to do those things [congestion charging etc].”
Mr. Rochester continued: “What we can’t do is carry on as we are. We are fast approaching the point where the number of vehicles overtakes the number of people on the island – that is horrifying. More vehicles means more pollution; it means we are using up the world’s resources; it means people take longer to get to work and so you get more frustration and an increase in road rage. None of that is good for any of us. It used to be that tourists could travel along at 15mph, 20mph, looking at the scenery. Now they get people right up behind them, beeping, being aggressive. Accidents increase.”
Mr. Rochester usually drives to work. On Friday he will be taking the bus to Hamilton and walking to TCD headquarters near Bernard Park. After work he will walk home to Shelly Bay. He says that he cannot leave his car behind on a regular basis because he works unusual hours and often stays at the office until late at night.
However, he urged others to follow his lead and to leave the car at home on Friday. He said: “Sometimes people expect the Government to sort out all the problems. But this begins with all of us – we can all do our bit.”
Burn Fat Not Fuel is a good idea — but are Government’s actions overall environmentally friendly? See Stuart Hayward’s column here.