'UNFORTUNATE': Daniel Solomon

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Flugtag organisers hit over 'poor planning'

By Carla Bridglal and Jensen LaVende

Poor planning and a lack of consultation between organisers of the Red Bull Flugtag event and transportation stakeholders are being blamed for the massive traffic pile-up on Sunday along the Western Main Road to Chaguaramas.

The event clashed with the annual St Peter's Day celebrations in Carenage, leaving thousands frustrated and trapped in traffic for several hours.

Supt Dianand Naipaul, attached to the Traffic Branch, told the Express in a telephone interview yesterday that his unit was never approached by the organisers.

"They never consulted us, the people who deal with the main arteries on the roads," Naipaul said.

He said that all traffic duties were being handled by Western Division, and around 1 p.m. on Sunday, the Traffic Branch was called in to assist.

"We had to get police from San Fernando, La Horquetta and Chaguanas to come and help — we are condoning a lot of bull," Naipaul said.

Attempts to speak with senior police officers, responsible for planning the traffic arrangements, at the Western Division Headquarters were unsuccessful.

Head of the Route 1 Maxi Taxi Association Eron Hewitt told the Express in a telephone interview yesterday that traffic jams could have been avoided had the organisers of the event consulted with him on the event.

"This damn thing was poorly planned — What we need is consultation because on an ordinary day is problems (to get out of Chaguaramas) and that is worse on a weekend," Hewitt said.

He said the best idea would have been for the maxi-taxis to shuttle people in and out of Port of Spain after they parked their cars in various parking lots in the city.

Reports to the Express said that passengers were forced to pay fares as high as $30 per passenger (six times the normal rate) for a trip to Chaguaramas. The Express was told fares were increased to compensate for the long wait in traffic, so maxi-taxi drivers could meet their daily average.

Hewitt said he "did not get any reports" on that matter.

Arrive Alive president Brent Batson said the traffic chaos as a result of Sunday's Red Bull Flugtag was due to poor planning.

Batson, also speaking to the Express via telephone, said the massive traffic pile-up shows that there was and is a need for logistical planning in terms of traffic management.

"This is an example of organisers not meeting with stakeholders in massive transport — Trinidad needs to wake up. This was poorly planned," Batson said.

The Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce issued a statement yesterday saying "a painful lesson was learnt from yesterday's traffic."

The Chamber called upon the Chaguaramas Development Authority (CDA), event organisers, law enforcement and other authorities to "take a reality check and not just facilitate a public catastrophe waiting to happen."

The Chamber said that "the Western peninsula cannot accommodate events of this magnitude" and thought the lesson would have been learnt from previous gridlocks experienced from other events in the past.

Diego Martin Regional Corporation chairman Anthony Sammy said on CNC3 News last night, that the Corporation was not consulted and that he believed there should not have any events taking place without proper consultation.

"There were many things that could have been done (to help the situation)," he said, "Life (of residents in the area) was disrupted for hours."

Chairman of the CDA, Daniel Solomon said in an interview with CNC3 News last night Sammy's statements were "unfortunate."

"My understanding is that they were informed and were part of the planning committee," he said.

He said that the CDA was in charge of leasing the land on the peninsula but it was the Red Bull Committee in charge of outside planning of the organisation.

"The event itself was a fantastic event. The peninsula was completely free of incidents — no crime or injuries were reported and the Army and Coast Guard were on standby. As far we are concerned it was completely successful," he said.

He said the CDA had its full complement of security staff present and the Coast Guard, Army and Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) were ready on standby.

"Any disaster could have been handled," he said.

Public Relations Officer of the Coast Guard, Lt Kirk Jean-Baptiste, said the organisers of the event were in talks with the Coast Guard since last year to assist with water safety.

On Sunday, Transport Minister Devant Maharaj and a spokesman for Works Minister Jack Warner said they too were not consulted by the organisers of the event.

Chief executive officer of the Office of Disaster Preparedness (ODPM) Stephen Ramroop said yesterday the organisation "would have wished to be involved in the planning stage."

"In the final stages, we saw there was a need for co-ordination and so we took it upon ourselves to communicate with the first responders and send a representative up to the command centre to assist with co-ordination of the event," said Ramroop.

He added that as a result of the event, the OPDM hopes to have a meeting with various stakeholders including the organisers of this event, other such promoters, and first responders to evaluate the event and come up with a standard for hosting other events in the area.

"We will examine what happened and come up with a plan so a situation like this would not happen again," he continued.

He added that there were safety issues the public needs to adhere to.

"You can't go on a boat or pirogue without life jackets or qualified personnel. This is against the Occupational Safety and Health Act," he said.

He suggested alternative transportation arrangements for events where large crowds are expected.

"A thing we have to introduce is 'park and rides' like what we had for the International Cricket Council Cricket World Cup in 2007, for all events in the peninsula and for and for Carnival next year in Port of Spain and even in San Fernando that prohibits and limits vehicles in a systematic way."

Local event co-ordinators for the Red Bull Flugtag, Ultimate Events in Woodbrook, said they would not be issuing a statement at this time. Red Bull was due to issue a statement, but up until presstime, had not.

Minister of National Security Brigadier John Sandy said the reports of robberies and shootings  at the Red Bull Flugtag event were nothing more than rumours.

Sandy was speaking at a press conference held at the VIP Lounge of the Piarco International Airport on the return of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar from St Kitts on Sunday when he made the comments.

He said the Red Bull Flugtag caused a traffic challenge in the location that extended along the Beetham all along Wrightson Road into the Western Main Road which was aggravated by the fact that St Peter's Day celebrations were also held on Sunday at Carenage.

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