RIGHT OF WAY (ran March 1981)

In the past ten years, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent in Bermuda on such essential community facilities as education, health and social welfare, public works, tax gathering, the Police, and the Civil Service. And yet, while we can now sit back and admire an efficient and prosperous Island, it is clear that a major area of reform has been almost totally ignored – the traffic problem.

The number of vehicles on Bermuda’s narrow, twisting road system has in fact almost doubled in those ten years. The resulting congestion has made serious inroads on the Island’s reputation as an oasis of calm and has begun to figure in airport surveys as one of the reasons visitors would not recommend Bermuda as a vacation spot.

And yet, in 1970, Government was handed a report on Transportation and Port Facilities, which it had commissioned from a respected British firm of engineers, in which a clear warning was sounded about the increasing pressure of traffic and some extremely sensible solutions were outlined. Like so many other reports, this huge study was shelved and now all those warnings are ringing hollowly in our ears.

The report made a great fuss about the fact that a deserted railway right of way existed in Bermuda and was almost totally undeveloped, except as a path for cyclists and pedestrians. This was, in the engineers’ view, a delightful circumstance that should not be ignored by those seeking salvation from the onslaught of too many infernal combustion engines.

After all, they pointed out, other countries faced with the need to introduce rapid transit systems after townships had grown up had had to spend huge sums just to acquire the land on which to build the system. Bermuda, through the closing down of the former railway between the Wars, was sitting on the most obvious solution to its problems and looking in every other direction but under its feet.

Rapid transit systems are not the cheapest forms of mass transportation to be found, even in these days of technological breakthroughs, but then nor are our current alternatives, the public bus service and the ferry network. They cost the taxpayer millions to operate and have never paid for themselves, despite the sterling efforts of Bermuda’s excellent Director of Transportation, Herman Basden and Director of Marine & Ports, Martin Hutley.

In 1970 it was estimated that it would cost $10 million to lay a 21-mile duo-rail system and provide the modern rubber-wheeled electric trains. By now that cost must have gone past the $20 million mark, but that’s how much it has cost Government to provide the bus and ferry system during the same period.

The point is that until the public is provided with a cheap, fast and comfortable alternative to the private motor-car (by the way, bus and ferry fares just went up to offset the growing operating deficit) it will continue to clog the roads and pay the parking fines and snarl at the radar gun, and run into the guy in front.

We therefore support whole-heartedly the new Transport Minister Bill McPhee and his plans to review out transportation policies. As former chairman of the Road Safety Council, Bill is an ideal person for the job.