There’s a reason this blog is called Square Peg (Round Hole). I grew up in NY, so you can imagine the culture shock I experienced upon returning to a place for which my expectations were based solely on Soca, Labor Day and overheard reminiscences. I’m pretty sure I spent the first five years here saying “In America…” and in the six years since, I’ve accepted that some things (ok, a lot of things) are just never going to make sense to me.
Don’t get me wrong, America is not the promised land (believe you me), but the things that baffled me about Trinidad upon arrival (and continue to exasperate me today) do not do so because they are major issues. They drive me nuts because, when you drill down, they are minor issues left unchecked that cause major problems. Put another way, most of the things that everyone (from born and bred Trinis to transplants like myself) spend most of our time griping about are relatively easily remedied… assuming anyone actually wants to remedy them at all.
The situation: Traffic is the daily bugaboo of every single Trinidadian who isn’t lucky enough to work from home. Whether you live in South (or the East) and have to wake up in the middle of the night to have any hope of getting to work in Port of Spain on time, or you live in the West and regularly spend at least an hour trying to travel a 15-minute distance, you are intimately familiar with this pain.
You also know the blessed relief of that sweet period when school is closed and you suddenly don’t have to spend half of your day just getting to and from work. As few parents have the luxury of taking time off every Christmas, Easter and July/August vacation, one can only assume that the difference in gridlock is mainly caused by teachers and students on their way to and from school.
What we should do: One logical solution would be to stagger school hours so they don’t coincide with the usual rush hour commute. If you want to get really crazy you might even consider staggering government office hours too. That way, traffic would get even lighter and (added bonus!) office workers would be able to access government services during the week without sacrificing their lunch hour or having to take an entire day off to renew their driver’s license.
Why no one has done this: Considering the widespread increase in productivity this would create, I can only imagine that Trinis much prefer to spend time staring at the license plate in front of them than doing their actual jobs. While this might be true for salaried employees, I doubt anyone who is paid hourly (not to mention anyone who actually wants to see their family from time to time) is enjoying the current state of things.
The situation: I’m going to focus solely on the parking situation in Port-of-Spain and environs here, because so far I have not seen a set-up more ridiculous and draconian anywhere else. If you know of one, please feel free to name and shame in the comments.
If you know me at all, you know I’m fond of order. Things tend to go more smoothly when there are rules in place and those rules are followed. The thing is, though, that system only works when the rules make sense… and they’re aren’t a secret. That’s why the parking situation we’re about to discuss is insane. How? Oh, for example:
On any given day, you might park your car where you’ve always parked it and return to find it gone. Vanished. When that happens, it would be reasonable to assume that your vehicle has been stolen. Unless you’ve been parking in Port-of-Spain or Woodbrook, in which case it may well have been towed. By whom? Who knows? To where? Your guess is as good as mine. Why? *shrug*
You see, in Woodbrook, the parking rules are subject to change without meaningful warning. Maybe there’s a cricket match today and the police have decided to block off the street… after you’ve already parked there. Sure, they could’ve arrived very early, before the day’s workers began parking and directed them elsewhere, but that would require giving up precious beauty sleep. So, one day, you’re going to turn onto the street on which you parked amidst many other cars only to discover that it is now barricaded and barren of vehicles. When you ask where your car has been whisked off to, the officer standing stone-faced at the barricade might know… or he might not. Thus begins your game of Dude, Where’s My Car, in which you visit the various lots in the area. Hopefully you have a friend whose car hasn’t been towed, otherwise, you’re going to have to beat feet. Oh, and when you find it, you get to pay hundreds of dollars to get it back.
What we should do: I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it would be a good idea to clearly label ALL of the areas where it is legal (or illegal) to park with signs that state where and when parking is allowed (or not allowed).
It would also be nice to make an extra effort to inform drivers when the rules are going to change. By “inform”, I don’t mean take a small ad out in newspapers no one reads or on TV stations that no one watches. If you can’t be bothered to show up early enough to place “No Parking” signs or direct drivers elsewhere, I’m thinking you should at least be willing to spring for skywriting or maybe a singing telegram service to go door-to-door at the nearest businesses. You know, add a little entertainment to your public service.
In addition, it would be great if the cops could settle on just where they’re going to keep the vehicles with which they abscond (and make sure their officers are all aware of the location), so as to avoid having a group of vulnerable women going from empty lot to empty lot and finally having to enter the dark and lonely Central Market in the middle of the night… as a random example.
Finally, it might be worthwhile to think about ticketing parking violators who aren’t actually obstructing the flow of traffic instead of just towing everything in sight. In the interest of not being evil.
Why no one has done this: I can’t imagine why anyone in a position to do something about this hasn’t considered any of these options. I mean, it’s not as if there are private interests benefiting financially from towing vehicles (allegedly, violators and non-violators alike) and extorting cash from people who aren’t in a position to take the matter to court before they pay to get their vehicles back. So, who knows what’s going on there?
The situation: Once upon a time, I didn’t have to worry about parking because I didn’t have a car. In those days I travelled. Oh boy, did I travel, in taxis, maxis and buses. What an experience that was.
Let me just say, as much as it frustrates my New York-minute soul, I understand why Trinis are always late. I get it. How could one possibly be on time when one has no earthly idea when or if a mode of transport will be arriving? Personally, I dealt with it by being very early everywhere, but that’s because lateness gives me hives. Obviously, Trinis have a natural immunity to that allergy, because there is no other way to explain their ability to patiently watch one full maxi after another blow by as their chances of arriving at work on time drop below zero. That immunity must also explain passengers’ unfailingly calm reaction when bus route maxis, which are required to carry them a certain distance, unceremoniously dump them halfway to their destination before allowing them back on to pay once again in order to travel the rest of the way.
Having experienced the aforementioned circumstances firsthand (and as I live in an area with zero legal taxis and maxis that quit working after a certain hour) I also understand why Trinis are willing to get into vehicles held together with duct tape and prayers if it means they might get home at some point that day.
However, when even Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) buses — which ostensibly run on a schedule — cannot be counted on to show up at all, it might be safe to say Trinidad has a bit of a transport problem. Maybe.
What we should do: I don’t presume to know what is going on at the PTSC (or how realistic it might be to… I don’t know, put more buses on the road at rush hour), but I don’t think it’s too much to ask for, at the very least, a dispatch system that allows passengers to be updated on ETAs and delays. You know, rather than just leaving them standing in a line for hours. Past that, how about considering regularization and registration of private taxis (which obviously aren’t going anywhere as long as H-cars aren’t able/willing to serve all areas) with the aim of making them a safer mode of travel? Oh, and tickets. BIG tickets for all those rogue maxi drivers treating their passengers like crap and driving like they have death wishes encompassing themselves and everyone on board.
Why no one has done this: I have to admit, this one baffles me. Literally no one enjoys travelling, but most everyone agrees that it would be more efficient and environmentally-friendly if more people did so, assuming public transportation was a viable option. In fact, the only people who seem to be firmly against it are the same people making travelling such a nightmare. So… stop frustrating the populace and fix it, nah? Please?
The situation: Few things frustrate me more than the state of this nation’s roads. Trinidad is home to the largest natural deposit of asphalt in the world. The pitch extracted from La Brea has paved roads in more than 50 countries, even travelling as far as Japan.
And YET. Our roads are embarrassingly bad. We have enough potholes to qualify our entire road network as a slalom training course. Depending on where you’re driving, you’d be better keep an extra sharp eye out for invisible speed bumps too, because (in Cunupia for instance) they don’t always bother to paint them, let alone put up warning signs. Then there are those rollercoaster sidewalks with their coverless manholes and foot-high curbs, which force anyone with the slightest mobility issues to brave the narrow, potholed roads. Oh, and then there are those lovely open drains.
Basically, everything is a mess. Everything.
What we should do: Fix it. Fix it all. Properly. As far as roads are concerned, I know this is possible because someone somewhere knows how to manage the highways, which tend to be in much better condition than main (and minor) roads. The pitch is free and we have an entire Ministry of Works and Infrastructure (not to mention the municipal corporations responsible for secondary roads and drains), so this can’t be a budgetary problem, can it? How much can it really cost to paint the million or so humps destroying shocks and bumpers every day? To cut costs elsewhere, maybe have the Water and Sewage Authority coordinate with those responsible for fixing roads before they dig them up (repeatedly)?
Someone should also probably check with those municipal corporations to see why some of them are capable of building sensible sidewalks (which don’t roll like the waves of the sea and end in cliffs) with concrete (difficult-to-remove) manhole covers and others aren’t.
Why no one has done this: I legit have no clue why, with all of the resources at our disposal, our road network is so deplorable. However, Trinidad being Trinidad, I can only assume that the existing state of things is making someone (or a lot of someones) lots of money.
Contrary to the opinions of the multitudes who are baffled by my return, Trinidad is not an awful place to live. It’s just plagued by perennial nonsensical problems that make everyday life so much harder than it has to be. On the bright side, these problems aren’t insurmountable. For example, I didn’t come up with any of these solutions on my own. They emerged from various conversations with friends and exasperated rants about the state of things.
On the not-so-bright side, relative simplicity just doesn’t seem to translate into the will to fix them.
Could it be that we really, truly like it so?