Should the water taxis be better utilised as part of the transport system? The isssue was raised by Senator Anthony Vieira during a joint select committee meeting on the operations of the National Infrastructure Development Company (Nidco) on Monday.
Vieira said he felt the water-taxi service had been a great success story, and asked if the routes should be expanded.
“Couldn’t we, for example, connect central, south, and Port of Spain to Chaguaramas, for example on public holidays, so families could take outings to the Chaguaramas recreational centre and avoid all that traffic bottleneck in Carenage? What about using the water taxi to bring tourists from the cruise ship centre to La Brea and having the Pitch Lake as a tourist destination and develop La Brea as a corollary?”
Nidco chairman Herbert George said these proposals were not new, and the organisation was thinking about extending the service to Point Fortin and La Brea.
“I remember going to Point and looking at difficulties of berthing in that area by Clifton Hill," he said. "It’s not insurmountable, but it’s something one would have to contend with, as there is a gas line running along the beachfront. and if we were to berth the way we want. we would want to have some safe way of straddling that line.
But, he said, "We have been looking at extending the service and I think it will move from 'looking at' to 'doing something' as time goes on.”
George said another use for the water taxis was excursions, as had been done previously.
“I can also remember the Ministry of Tourism had a system in the past where they used the water taxis for excursions down the islands. I think it was the National (Trust) people that used the water taxis to shuttle people to these sites down the islands, and it was well supported, so we need to reintroduce that as well, so that you can find profitable use for those resources on weekends when they are not heavily used, so you get better returns on your asset.”
In response to a question from committee member Foster Cummings, George said the expansion of the service had not yet been placed before Nidco as a job. He said the organisation was focusing on maintenance of the current fleet.
“We have spent a lot of time and resources on those vessels, to the point where we now have three vessels seaworthy and operational and there is one on which we are still doing some work. The water taxi was victim of that all-pervasive tendency for us to get an item, use it when it is new and don’t think of maintaining it, and at the end of the day it is of no use to anybody. The water taxis once had that problem, where even if they were being maintained, the maintenance was not as enlightened as it should have been. They basically waited for breakdowns and tried to fix breakdowns.
"We have taken on a different approach. We have taken on personnel so we can conduct a more preventative maintenance programme on those vessels.”
Vieira also raised the issue of creating a safe, secure and reliable mass transit system, especially in the wake of the death of Andrea Bharatt.
“One troubling aspect of the Bharatt case was the use of a decoy taxi used to lure her, and this is a major concern on the part of many women in our society about uncertain and unsafe transport.
"Would a safe, secure and reliable mass transit system such as a rapid rail, be a safeguard for the thousands of our women commuters? And besides the safety factor, wouldn’t that be a way of generating jobs and providing employment, not for a cosmetic or handout project, but one that will yield real long-term benefits for the country?”
George said while he was in favour of a mass transit system, advocacy, funding and the will to do the project were needed.