By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
A FRENCH couple back on vacation in New Providence since their first visit two years ago had expected to see an improvement in public transport and improved facilities for pedestrians with a change in government.
However, the prospective second-home owners who currently live in Alberta, Canada, said these were concerns they had hoped would be addressed but “can’t see much of a difference”.
Fabrice Dupond, a former policeman of more than a decade in Paris, and his wife, Julie, a lecturer at a university in Edmonton, spoke to The Tribune this week about concerns they feel are important for them to factor into buying a home in The Bahamas, having fallen in love with “the very nice beaches, the water, the cultural events, the music, and we enjoy the taste of the local cuisine, conch salad, the fish, the sheep tongue souse”.
“We are interested in buying a second home here because it’s less expensive than Europe, the natural area is very nice and it’s not difficult to find a spot to relax on the beach compared to the beaches in France. It’s not as crowded and it’s nicer,” Mr Dupond said.
“We were here two years ago when people voted for the new prime minister and the government. And from reading the reports since then and being back here and seeing the island for myself, we can’t see much of a difference,” the former policeman said.
“I can’t see any difference for public transportation or the safety for cyclists and pedestrians or consideration for the disabled to have access to these spaces. I know two years is very short to change everything, but it should be very interesting to see, at the end of the term, if there is change.
“After two years, almost half of the five years, for me there is not a lot of improvement other than the area near Baha Mar for the tourists. But tourists don’t vote for the government,” he chuckled, continuing that he “would like to see equal treatment for locals and tourists alike. I am a tourist and I could say ‘I don’t care about the rest of Nassau and the locals that live here’, but if I’m going to live here I would like to see the other parts of Nassau developed as well because it’s good for the economy in other areas.”
Last week, US Department of State’s annual Crime and Safety Report on the Bahamas was released and highlighted issues of road safety.
Drinking and driving was labelled as “common” and the report noted that “the legal ban on this activity is rarely enforced, resulting in numerous traffic accidents and fatalities, including those involving tourists and scooters”.
“Many motorists disobey traffic control devices including stop signs, speed limits and traffic signals. Police enforcement of traffic laws is minimal and visitors driving on the roadways should use caution,” said the report.
Plans for a unified bus system have moved at a slow pace under successive PLP and FNM administrations.
As far back as 2006, jitney drivers, franchise owners, and the public have called on the government to implement a unified system that would bring all operators under one entity. At that time, then Governor General Arthur Hanna vowed that the PLP government would bring legislation to enact the plan. In September 2009, then Minister of Works and Transport Neko Grant said the proposed initiative was still in the preliminary stages and a final draft had not yet been presented to Cabinet.
In 2010, a College of the Bahamas study estimated that a strengthened jitney system could save a Bahamian family more than $30,000 over 10 years. The COB faculty group, the 1962 Foundation, warned that the current inadequate infrastructure “deepens our growing trade imbalance and national debt”.
In February, joined by Road Traffic and Public Transport Authority officials, Minister of Transport and Aviation Glenys Hanna-Martin hosted a public transportation workshop to sensitise bus operators to public concerns.
Yesterday, the French couple elaborated on their experiences that led them to their conclusions.
“We used the public transportation several times, but it wasn’t a good experience because there is no schedule to know when the bus will arrive. The buses are a little too old to be on the road. I think they have to change them,” Mr Dupond said.
“It’s difficult to know if that bus is registered publicly or privately,” his wife added. “The bus drivers were friendly because when we walk close to the road, they stopped to ask us if we would like to use the transportation or not, but when we wait at the bus stop, you don’t know when the bus will arrive.”
“The actual bus rides can be a bit crazy, there’s a lot of speeding and there aren’t seat belts,” Julie further noted, expressing concern for bus users, locals and tourists alike.
“I’m also concerned about the safety on the sidewalks because they are not everywhere on the island and they are too small. There are also no special lanes for cyclists, people drive very fast and for pedestrians and cyclists it could be dangerous. When you want to do the running along the road, its difficult because the sidewalk is not everywhere or too small. So sometimes you have to run on the road or change sides every so often.”
“And it’s especially disconcerting that disabled persons aren’t taken into account in the construction of the roads and in the bus system which are standard in Edmonton and Paris. Senior citizens and handicapped persons can used the public transportation in both cities because the buses are designed to allow them access with special chairs and gates for entry. I haven’t seen them there but it would be nice to see that happen.”
The Duponds noted the disparities between the tourist hubs like downtown Nassau and Cable Beach and the rest of the Over-the-Hill communities on the island. They said they would like to enjoy themselves on the rest of the island as much as they would in downtown Nassau or Cable Beach.