Published On: Tue, Dec 4th, 2018

A car for every working (wo)man

Hilbert HaarBy Hilbert Haar

Traffic jams. Everybody hates them but nobody wants to leave his or her car at home.

A car for every working man; that was something Joop den Uyl, the iconic front man of the Dutch socialist party PvdA envisioned in the sixties of last century. We all know by now what happened next. Den Uyl’s vision became a reality and all those working stiffs are nowadays complaining about traffic jams.

Congestion is not unique to St. Maarten, but the island’s land mass and infrastructure pose specific problems and they make a solution more complicated, if not near impossible.

In my opinion, building more road infrastructure is not the solution. The causeway across the Simpson Bay lagoon is in itself a beautiful project but it has done nothing to improve the flow of traffic. At certain times of the day Cole Bay is still seriously congested.

What more roads – or tunnels, or overpasses – will do is move the traffic jams to a different location. More roads will also attract more traffic.

Measures that infringe on civil liberties – like allowing only one car per household for instance – should only come into the picture when all other options have been exhausted.

What about allowing even plate numbers on the road one day and uneven plate numbers the next day? Not my favorite idea either, because this would put average citizens at a disadvantage; well to do people will simply buy two, or even more cars to get around this measure. Enforcing such a measure is going to be a major headache and it will even bring more cars to the island.

It makes more sense to limit the number of cars that are allowed to be on the island. If the number is right now, say, 30,000, the government ought to freeze the island’s car fleet at that number. How? I’d say: for every imported car the importer – be it a business or a private citizen – has to export the same number of older cars.

I suggested something like this years ago to MP Theo Heyliger. His answer: we have open borders with the French side and if they don’t cooperate, it won’t help. That is true, or at least it was, but these days the cooperation between the French and the Dutch side is supposed to be much better than years ago. And besides, the French side is struggling with the same congestion issues.

Keeping the size of the island’s car fleet under control is one thing – but it is not a complete solution. The government will have to invest in an affordable public transport infrastructure -something it has failed to do for decades.

The government could also consider a ban on rental cars and only allow rental scooters.

Furthermore, the government could consider incentives for civil servants – we’ve got around 2,000 of them – who leave their private car at home and come to work on a two-wheeler (motorized or not) or by public transport. Businesses could consider similar programs.

Traffic is one of the responsibilities of our minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication – Stuart Johnson. He did not create the traffic jams; he inherited them from previous governments. It is entirely up to the minister to decide whether he wants to join the ranks of all those who came before him – and did nothing – or that he wants to make a difference that will benefit all of us.

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Related links:
Facebook debate about solutions needs for traffic jams on St. Maarten/St. Martin
No easy solution for traffic jams