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Tuesday 20 February 2018

A passage to Tobago

At last a new ferry has been identified and steps are being taking to acquire it. However, the purchase of the US$17.4 million catamaran, Galleon’s Passage, is not the panacea to our inter-island travel woes. It must be the start of a comprehensive plan linking Trinidad and Tobago.

Such a plan should give due consideration to a wider range of stops, including the development of Toco’s port facilities, and include coordination between the sea and air bridges. We deserve an easy and reliable system.

It has been far from smooth sailing to get to this point. The procurement processes undertaken by the Port Authority repeatedly failed to result in a suitable outcome.

Problems there raised disturbing questions about procurement practices within the State sector. The move to establish a Cabinet committee to focus on this acquisition was necessary given the clear failure of the Port Authority to deliver.

That said, now that a vessel has been decided on and it is going to be here in April, one hopes every step is taken to ensure the acquisition process is above board and that rigorous checks are continued and completed. We cannot afford another fiasco.

The focus must now be on improving the quality of service delivered by the current system. There are already hints that an additional vessel will have to be acquired in order to ensure there is always a service in place given dry-docking schedules.

It must also be remembered that maintenance is a large part of the picture. The vessel will experience wear and tear once put to use. All efforts should be made to ensure there is an adequate supply of obvious parts and we do not have to be scurrying in search and negatively impacting the sea bridge when preventable problems hit.

The new vessel also presents an opportunity when it comes to plans for development of port facilities in Toco. Those plans have long been mulled and discussed. It is time to make those plans a reality. Efforts should be made to upgrade facilities currently in place to facilitate the use of this port.

The whole issue of trying to make the sea bridge and air bridge compatible should not be forgotten. There should be effective synergy between these two methods of travel so that passengers have a good range of options. The indication that the boat will also pay for itself in two years’ time is also encouraging.

We hope we are indeed getting value for money this time around.

Galleon’s Passage should be the start of a continued effort to ensure we have a sustained and efficient transport system over the short, medium and long term.


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