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'Tis the season to be wrecking

The timing, to say the least, is not auspicious. After months of inertia, the traffic authorities sprang into action as the Christmas season, heralded by parang on the radio and advertisements of grand sales, started. Convoys of wreckers were deployed on the streets of Port of Spain, pulling in thousands of dollars daily in fees from errant motorists and, by the same token, taking away even more in profits from stores based in the capital city.

The suddenness and super-efficiency of the wrecking offensive has not only shocked shoppers, but also elicited protest from the Downtown Owners and Merchants Association. The association has seen threats to bottom lines directly presented in wrecking operations that serve to warn drivers to bypass downtown Port of Spain in favour of suburban malls.

Even if such exercises were standard operating procedure throughout the year – which is not the case – objections from the store owners in this period would still be understandable. Christmas profits, after all, often carry businesses for the rest of the year. And even street vendors get an ease up in recognition that a certain degree of flexibility is necessary during this commercial season. Yet the authorities, for reasons still unexplained, have decided that now is the appropriate time to wreck vehicles, and are doing so, not throughout the capital and its environs, but primarily on the main streets.

This heavy-handed policing of parking would be beneficial if it freed up the capital's streets. Instead, the wreckers themselves have been contributing to the traffic jams as they block major thoroughfares in order to load up vehicles. The unintended consequence could also turn the city into a commercial no-go zone (though it should be noted that the political conspiracy theorists have suggested that this consequence is, in fact, very much intended). So what is to be done?

In the long term, more and better parking places must be part of the strategy for keeping Port of Spain economically alive and socially liveable.

It is an empirical fact that no country in the world becomes developed without cities which are centres of commercial, social, and cultural activity. And that requires, among other things, sensible traffic plans. The City Corporation could partner with the Public Transport Service Corporation to provide shuttles, making it possible for people to leave their cars someplace safe and still get their business done in the city. The wreckers should also be regulated, at least to the point of insisting they wreck only vehicles which are causing traffic congestion, rather than simply choosing cars which are easiest to remove so they can maximise their trips and hence their profits.

The manner in which the present exercise is being conducted, unfortunately, solves precisely nothing.

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