Transport forms the arteries and lifeblood of society and the economy. It has been hugely affected by Covid19 (CV19) around the world and the big question being asked is how to restart it and what options exist to build upon some of the changes we have seen. As with all infrastructure spending, transport investment also kick-starts economic growth.
One of the big transport challenges is the implementation of social distancing whilst still getting people into work and this will require management of travel demand whilst increasing capacity in certain areas.
But positive events can emerge out of crises and CV19 has certainly catalysed change, through far more working from home and remote ordering and delivery of goods. Transport authorities can work with employers to embed these changes, which all reduce demand for road space, for example planning flexible starting times to further reduce congestion at peak times.
Further measures to increase capacity can also be implemented, such as “tidal flow” which as the name suggests, allows traffic to move largely in one direction at busy times using most of the road on both sides, and reverses the direction of flow for the evening peak. Another way of increasing capacity is through car-sharing schemes where multiple occupancy is incentivised.
Managing car demand and capacity provides an opportunity to improve the public transport offering through faster and more reliable journeys. Many options exist, from light rail and metro schemes on the one hand, which take ten years or more to implement, to “bus rapid transit” (BRT), which can be delivered in around two years. BRT uses dedicated bus lanes and priority traffic lights to dramatically improve bus journeys. It also utilises cashless payment which reduces direct contact between passengers and bus operators, a further health benefit. As well as reducing delays it can also provide valuable data on travel patterns that can help transport authorities plan future services. Along with step-free access at bus stops, it is not hard to see how this can dramatically increase the capacity of public transport on key routes when implemented in parallel with the management of car demand and capacity as discussed earlier. Island states like Singapore have world-class public transport systems and there is no reason Barbados should not now benefit from such initiatives.
Mirroring the digital transformation in society, transport is seeing greater adoption of technology and innovation to drive improvements in the passenger experience. For example, one of the things that would make a huge difference for Barbados’ passengers would be the availability of smartphone apps which would indicate how close by the next bus is, as well as how much space there is on it. With flexible working this allows passengers to make informed choices and reduce waiting times at bus stops which clearly provided a health benefit in the CV19 environment.
Looking further ahead, we are likely to see greater adoption of robotics and automation in transport, for example, autonomous vehicles or the use of drones for remote deliveries of goods.
As part of a broader reorientation of transport strategy, there is an opportunity to provide a dedicated school bus system with its own allocated timetable slots, linked to travel apps on parents’ and students’ phones. Also, if the reductions in city-centre traffic are part of the long-term changes in travel arising from CV19, it opens the possibility of allocating more street space for walking and cycling, using dedicated lanes. “Ebikes” are an increasingly popular option (although still quite expensive), as they have all the advantages of a pedal bike but are equipped with a small motor which reduces the effort required so cycling becomes an option for office workers.
Renewable energy is becoming increasingly affordable and as an island blessed with sunshine it makes perfect sense for Barbados to increase the migration towards electric vehicles of all types, linked to an increased investment in charging infrastructure and solar energy generation.
Passengers are at the core of transport and it is important they are involved in the planning and execution of transport services especially where changes are being contemplated. Virtual “Town Hall” meetings, use of social media, letter drops, and public consultations are all good ways of reaching out and getting feedback.
Barbados is blessed with huge water transport resources therefore ferries between key parts of the island are a very feasible option. They could be used as a viable addition to the public transport system and move thousands of commuters and tourists a day, connecting for example Oistins in the south to Holetown in the north, via St. Lawrence Gap, Bridgetown, and St. James. Vehicles could be parked at car parks in these locations next to newly constructed ferry terminals and hence reducing road traffic.
As a key part of economic strategy, transport is linked to other key sectors such as agriculture, and given the drive towards more self-sufficiency, it can play a huge part in ensuring agricultural products are able to be moved efficiently across the island.
On a broader front, Barbados also exists as a key player in the Wider Caribbean Region and improved transport links between the islands would be a huge fillip to economic growth. Currently, there is a huge reliance on air transport to underpin island connectivity, but it is expensive and acts as a brake on regional development so there is a strong business case for innovation that reduces the cost of inter-island connectivity, possibly looking at new technologies.
Capital investments like those set out above, as well as improving passenger experience, of course also stimulate the economy through providing jobs and growth and revenues for the government. Barbados has a highly educated capable workforce and therefore transport investment will diversify the country’s skills base and increase the amount of onshore manufacturing.
So a re-focused transport strategy will allow Barbados to reduce city-centre congestion, improve public transport, facilitate greater walking and cycling, deliver better information for passengers, reduce pollution, improve health and safety and stimulate jobs and economic growth.
Sounds like a good plan!