Not even an Ebola scare can cause us to miss our national stress reliever. Back in 1972, Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago almost didn’t happen because of a polio outbreak and it was postponed to rainy May. This inspired local calypsonian Lord Kitchener to sing “all we know they better do fast, polio or no polio, man we want we mas” in his Road March winner, Rainorama.
If someone we don’t know offers us a drink or a nibble, we don’t let our lips touch the rim of the glass or bottle and eat from the other side of the plate. If we notice a small sore in our mouth a few days later, then we weren’t careful enough.
Because we live in such a small country where everyone knows everybody, we automatically slow down whenever there’s carnage on the roads to maco and see whether we recognize the number plates and/or the victims.
Even though it’s the cheapest street food you can find on the two islands, we do not like it when vendors threaten to raise the price, even by one TT dollar. You can increase the price of gasoline and raise taxes, but leave our doubles alone!
Whenever a hurricane narrowly passes our islands, we love to say that God is a Trini/Tobagonian. We monitor earthquake warnings like clockwork and will be the first to ask our friends on Facebook if they felt the ground shake.
Even though we live in the 21st century, some of our government offices seem to be stuck in the stone ages and often lose or misplace our files. We also pray that government workers are not on strike/vacation because we hate having to use up our personal hours/days to return and repeat the charade.
What else will we do to keep our economy afloat and maintain our first world lifestyles in our developing nation?
We pray that pictures of us found in compromising positions such as wining on a homeless person on Carnival Monday and Tuesday don’t make the front page or go viral on Ash Wednesday.
Some of us are very superstitious and afraid that these objects may be cursed by obeah (witchcraft), bringing trouble for anyone who dares to touch or pocket them.
LIGHT TRAILS: Vehicles traverse along the Solomon Hochoy Highway, in the vicinity of the Golconda overpass in this long exposure image, captured by Express Chief Photographer Dexter Philip.
If you want to understand the magnitude of Trinidad and Tobago’s traffic nightmare, consider this.
If there was ever a catastrophic event where every single building was destroyed on the islands, every single person would be able to get into a vehicle.
This is because more than 1,000,000 vehicles are on the roads.
And for anyone caught in the mind-numbing traffic gridlock on highways and secondary roads, it sometimes feels like all one million vehicles are stuck in the front, side and back of you.
The worst of the misery exists from north to south
ONLY someone living in south Trinidad heading to north to earn a living or conduct business would understand the struggles of being held hostage to horrific daily traffic.
Many would leave their homes and families in the dark if they are to arrive on time to their destination. On any given day, an individual travelling from south spends over five to six hours travelling to and from Port of Spain to their homes.
Aside from having to deal with the constant flooding along the Mosquito Creek, for those coming in that direction, once this section is passed commute is usually delayed by accidents, people stopping to “maco” the accident, police operations, careless drivers overtaking others and drivers simply cruising along on the highway.
With over one million registered vehicles on the nation’s roads and the figure slowly increasing concern of further traffic pile-up has been raised by members of the public, says acting Transport Commissioner Basdeo Gosine.
He said drivers usually face bottle neck traffic along the Mosquito Creek, the Claxton Bay flyover, in the vicinity of the Couva Children’s Hospital, before the Freeport flyover, and from Chase Village leading straight into Port of Spain there is a gridlock traffic.
In a letter to the editor, Cedros resident Michelle Dymally Davis explained that it was baffling to note that many people working in Port of Spain come from southern communities. And that Central Government has not utilised effectively its powers to decentralise many of the government services which would result in lessened traffic congestion into the capital city, as well as make conducting essential business easier for the public.
“Here in the South most of us have to head north to earn a living or conduct business. If you do not leave in the dark you will never arrive to your destination on time. The dreaded Mosquito Creek literally holds you hostage as there is no alternative route without going completely out of your way. Once we pass the Creek, we then have to deal with the dreaded highway where a number of things can further delay your commute, accidents, police operations or people simply cruising.
What baffles me most is that it is estimated that a great percentage of the people working in Port of Spain actually come from the South. No one in power has thought to decentralize government services, thus reducing the traffic into the capital. Instead, the Government continues to build and rent offices in Port of Spain, further worsening our horrific traffic crisis.
We in the South can easily spend three to six hours commuting to and from work to earn a dollar, a great percentage of which is spent on gas or taxi fare. If the purpose of government is to benefit the citizenry, how come no one has a plan to release the citizens from this daily nightmare?
Why is everything in this country considered from a north perspective? What about the rest of the country? Again, the citizens of the South remain an afterthought when it comes to infrastructure and planning. And no, the Point Fortin Highway is not going to solve our problems.
Further adding to our commute problems are some of the worst roads in the country. So on top of the gas bill our car maintenance costs are high as we are forever hitting or dodging potholes. When will the authorities begin to think of the entire citizenry in this country instead of a few,” she said.
A Ministry of Finance employee spoke to the Express about her daily struggles entering the Capital city and how it has adversely impacted her life.
and the resultant traffic gridlock at Chaguaramas. Photos: Jermaine Cruickshank and Robert Taylor
She said she leaves her Penal home as early as 4 a.m. to take a bus heading to Port of Spain each day. The woman has three children ages 14, 9 and 5 years old. She said she leaves her children with her in-laws to send off to school while her husband takes her to the San Fernando bus terminal each day.
She said there is a Public Transportation Service Corporation (PTSC) bus with a route in Penal but this is often full with many passengers left standing. She would take the Deluxe Coach bus as it runs more efficiently than the other buses. But this does not stop her from facing traffic troubles.
“Imagine that I am doing this each day for the last 17 years. I leave my children with my in-laws, my husband would drop me off the bus station, go back home to help get the children ready for school and send them off. I am leaving my children in darkness to get to work. The time I leave home to get the bus on average I reach to work before 8 a.m. but when it comes to the afternoon, I reach home in the night. On more than one occasion I reached home 9 p.m. So I have very little time for my family. The department I work in can have an office somewhere central to make it convenient for me and others from South coming to Port of Spain. Traffic is crazy and it has been so for years and no one seems to care enough about us,” she said.
She said the traffic is usually at gridlock from just after Chaguanas on mornings, however, in the afternoons the traffic is from the City straight into San Fernando. Then, she has to take another transport in order to get home.
She added that taking a taxi into Port of Spain does not make sense given that the vehicle will be stuck in the traffic and the cost of $17 one-way is too much as a Coach bus ticket costs $10.
She said her sister-in-law also faces similar conditions heading to the City, and takes the Water Taxi ferry service often which costs $15 one-way. She said though the service is more better, there is a rush as it’s a first-come-first-serve type of service.
Asked if she thinks the completion of the Sir Solomon Hochoy Highway extension to Point Fortin would ease her traffic struggles, she said no.
“Even though the highway is helpful and it does get us out in South faster to some places, the traffic from Chaguanas and Couva area going up is a major problem. There really needs some kind of better traffic management plan or having more government services Central and South. The department I work in can have an office maybe Central,” she said.
Jesse Ramcharan, 29, a former Petrotrin employee, now an engineering consultant from Cedros described the daily commute as “terrible and exhausting.”
Speaking with the Express, Ramcharan said he often conducts business in Port of Spain and has to cater for the commute by leaving home in the dark.
“That traffic is terrible and personally it’s exhausting. You spend at least three hours in traffic one way. I live in a remote part of the country and I spend more time away from home because government services and businesses I engage with have not been de-centralised. Most people who do not have to endure this, does not fully understand what it is like to leave home at 4 or 5 a.m. to drive or travel all the way into Port of Spain and then have to make that journey back. You get that amazed or astonished look when you tell them about the traffic but it is exhausting. And imagine someone having to reach to work on-time or else they get bad performance reviews for poor work attendance.
Coming from Cedros I have to pass through the Mosquito Creek and that in itself is at least another hour in traffic. Then we have to look-out for flooding on the Creek and no one wants their vehicle to be damaged by salt water when the tide is high. There is a lot of wear and tear to vehicles because the roads are not properly maintained. When I know I have to go to Port of Spain I would check when there is high tide and if there is one the next day I would have to overnight at a relative’s home in Trincity to avoid that delay with traffic. I still face traffic on that side but it isn’t as bad as what we face in South,” he said.
HOLIDAY JAM: It was bumper-to-bumper traffic to enter Gulf View Link Road, La Romaine.
He said that people would seek alternative routes to avoid traffic and spend a longer time reaching their destination, however, this too is a problem given the poor road conditions and numerous potholes drivers have to face.
He added that before owning his vehicle he travelled for years from Cedros to Point Fortin, take a car headed to San Fernando and then finally another to Port of Spain each time.
Ramcharan said the PTSC service could prove valuable to the travelling public however, it is inefficient.
“Maintenance is a problem with PTSC. We recorded something like 1.1 million cars on the roads with a population of 1.3 million, that is crazy. If the PTSC service was functioning at an optimal level people would leave their vehicles at home and use the service. But when you take a bus now you have to worry if it’s going to shut down and you would left stranded on the side of the highway and no one wants that,” he said.
Ramcharan believes the completion of the Point Fortin highway project will benefit the country.
Matthew Kissoon said he regularly encounters traffic from South Oropouche to Point Lisas. He said he usually leaves home from as early as 5 a.m. to avoid the traffic but each day the commute is a nightmare. Kissoon said that if he has to head into Port of Spain for personal business he takes over four hours and with the afternoon traffic up to six hours.
On February 5, grandmother Tara Baboolal suffered mortal injuries as the PTSC bus she was on was hit by a cargo truck that came from the opposite side of the highway.
She was making her way to Port of Spain to conduct a land transaction because in 2019, this kind of business can only be done at the Inland Revenue office in the Capital. Her relatives said she was not supposed to be on the bus on that day, but her documents were not in order previously and it was the only time she had.
Judy Clarke of Diego Martin was another who died in the crash who was on her way to conduct business in the City. There were a number of other passengers who also suffered injuries sustained in that crash.
TTPS Road Safety coordinator Brent Batson lamented over the number of vehicles on the road. He said there was simply too many vehicles on the roadways creating the traffic pile-up seen each day.
Speaking to the Express via telephone interview, Batson said the increase in the number of vehicles recently has added to the traffic frustration and congestion faced.
“It (traffic congestion) is definitely linked to the exponential increase in motorization in the country. This is a global phenomenon that all developing countries is facing. The first sign of economic progress is motorization and as cars become more affordable people are going to purchase. So you find that the road network is simply dealing with capacity. For example when you have over a quarter of a million vehicles entering into Port of Spain alone you would need road network expansion to some areas, and in peak hours that is one of the main issues,” he said.
Batson made suggestions for members of the public to consider ride-sharing to reduce the number of vehicles on the roads.
He said: “That is why you need to have flexible time, alternative transport, if people can do more ride sharing and leave their vehicles home, all that would help so that we can get less cars.
If people can work together and do a ride share that’s less vehicles every day. We need to explore those options because there is only so much the country’s roads can take with the traffic. At times you have a mix of vehicles of large and small moving on a two-lane highway and that’s going to severely impact the flow and that leads to frustration and people take chances such using the shoulders sometimes and then given a ticket for that behaviour.
So it’s something of a transnational level, so better marked transit, better options, even some cases encouraging people into cycling. A lot of people on the eastern Main Road can bicycle close by. The Police can only do so much to redirect traffic but it is all about capacity right now.”
However, an official from the Ministry of Works said the ministry is aware of the traffic nightmare citizens face daily and told the Express there are plans and infrastructural projects in place to alleviate this.
With the completion of the various interchanges currently under construction, road widening exercises, road paving exercises and a new park and ride initiative, this will ease the burden of the traffic chaos, said the official.
According to the ministry employee, the park and ride initiative is a pilot project which is collaboration with the Ministry and other State agencies.
The official explained that those interested would be able to park at stadiums across the country and board a Public Transportation Service Corporation (PTSC) bus of shuttle to be taken to their destination. The car-pooling type of commute is expected to ease traffic, cut the cost of car maintenance and gas bill.
The pilot project is expected to be launched by the end of the year.
Hi! My husband and I are moving to Trinidad for his job. As far as we understand, there are a few areas that his company can recommend that are supposedly safer and are also more heavily populated with expats. We don't know yet which areas these are, can anyone say? I'd like to get a little jumpstart on researching places before we travel over for a familiarization trip.
We are also debating whether or not to bring our dog. We have family he can stay with in the states if not, but what would you recommend? This decision also affects our decision between renting a house or an apartment. I have no idea what is most common, but I'd like to be safe and not have to worry about being alone while my husband is away.
Is there any other information you can tell me about what to expect in general? Is crime as big of an issue as I have been reading everywhere? I am young, white, petite. Should I avoid going places alone during the day? I am just trying to gather as much info as possible to make the transition a little bit smoother! Thanks for reading!!
Firstly in Port of Spain you need not worry particularly about being white. Trinidad has just about every ethnicity and shade of skin. No one will give you a second glance once you have settled in and as long as you do not stray down back streets of some of the bad areas. On the of the things I love about Trini is that it is very metropolitan compared to some other islands so you will need to dress - those Trini chicks are smart. That's not to say everyone is fashion model but you will see - you will stand out more if you are dressed for the beach.
Crime is a big issue but I also think fear of crime is a big issue. Some of my Trini colleagues are unbelievablely cautious to my mind but then if you have family who have been victims of crime then it will affect.
Others can say more but I mostly keep to the area around the University where I feel safe and shop at malls. I tend to only go somewhere new with a Trini friend or colleague who has been before.
Thank you so much for the reply. I am definitely cautious about crime so I'll be aware of my surroundings. I'm actually glad that you said what you did about clothing. I actually studied fashion on college and was thinking that I might have to give up some of my more fashionable clothing to blend in with a more casual scene. Very good to know that is not the case.
It looks like we may be in the Westmoorings area. Is that a safe area? Are there amenities (markets, shopping, pharmacy, restaurants etc) within walking distance? Are there safe beaches there?
Again, I appreciate your reply! I'm very much looking forward to the move.
It's been a couple of years since I lived there as an expat, but I'll try to help.
Westmoorings is popular with both expats and the, er, richer trinis. Safe area, with a large shopping mall nearby. Not really a beach to speak of, but you'll probably have a pool with your accommodation.
I heard a lot about the crime before I moved there, enough to give me second thoughts about moving there. To me it was much better than I expected, yes the crime rate is high but most violent crime is not targeted at expats, and mostly involves those involved in gangs or the drug trade. You can be unlucky, just like anywhere.
Most expat accommodation is pretty secure (guardhouses, bars over the windows etc) and in safer areas. Some other areas you could look at are Maraval and Goodwood Park. An apartment or condo in a gated complex might be a good option, as opposed to a standalone house. That'll also help you meet some neighbours.
As a young, petite, white female you will get some attention, mostly good natured, be prepared for it as it can get a bit tiresome (so I'm told). I think if you don't put yourself in dangerous situations then you will be fine.
I'm sure you'll really enjoy T&T, it has it's own very special culture which is a wonderful experience.
I kept trying to remember the place where many or most expats live and couldn't remember until Andrew brought it up. Yes. Westmoorings.
Trinidad has been notorious for a few years in the early 2000's for being the ranking kidnapping capital of the world second to perhaps only Colombia. It may have subsided a little. The crime was real. To my understanding the overwhelming majority of it targeted local small business owners for ransom. The unfortunate part of it was when police could not bring justice by catching the perpetrators the victim's next of kin paid ransom to get the kidnapped home. This of course encouraged the kidnappers thinking crimes pay. I met at least one family who recounted their personal experience when I visited in the early 2000's. But I have not seen a single case where an expat or a tourist was the victim. To my knowledge there are a few bad spots near Port of Spain but personally I have never had a problem driving anywhere in the country.
I have visited the country no less than ten times since the late 90's. In general Trinis are friendly. As mentioned race is hardly an issue. But you should be aware the infrastructure of the country leaves a lot to be desired. It will be quite different from where you live right now. Roads are narrow. The highway is very congested because of lack of planning and road construction. There are open sewers nearly everywhere, among a few other problems.
The living expenses is perhaps a little cheaper than that of the US. Trinidad has seen some siginificant inflation this past decade. It used to be much cheaper. The country is lush green all year around. The climate is tropical and humid I am sure you know.
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC)— Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley says the borders of the twin island republic will remain closed as long as health requirements related to COVID-19 remain in place.
Speaking during a media conference in Tobago on Saturday, the prime minister said while some Caribbean countries have started to reopen their borders, his administration is determined to take a cautious approach.
“We want to keep our borders where it is because the pandemic is raging. The closure of the borders is not meant to penalise anybody, it's not meant to lock us in here and make us prisoners. It's meant to keep the virus out, and the virus travels by way of people. It is normal common sense,” he said.
As it relates to travel exemptions, the prime minister added that priority will be given to those citizens who left temporarily to work abroad or receive medical treatment.
Meanwhile, as of Monday, bars, beaches, rivers, casinos, private members clubs, cinemas and gyms will resume operations, as the country moves into the next phase of the gradual reopening of the economy.
Restaurants will also be allowed to restart dine-in services. All establishments will be required to close at 10:00 pm (local time).
There will also be a full reopening of all malls including food courts.
In addition, the zoo and amusement parks will reopen, while team sports will recommence without spectators. Horseracing will also resume, but physical distancing rules must be observed.
The details were released by the prime minister, who also said that educational institutions will only be allowed to reopen for the purposes of examinations. However, daycares and pre-schools will remain closed until September.
He also said that transport will now operate at 100 per cent capacity, while congregation in public spaces will be increased from 10 to 25 people.
To date, Trinidad and Tobago has recorded 123 positive COVID-19 cases. There are currently six active cases.
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Doing the needful: Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith visited the Port of Spain, Tunapuna and Chaguanas markets on Saturday to ensure citizens adhere to the guidelines of no congregating in groups of more than ten. It was his first day back on duty after a 14-day self-quarantine due to his recent travels to the UK.
Many citizens are confused as to their freedom of movement, such as whether they can get locked up or fined for exercising and being on the roadways over the next two weeks.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on Thursday announced a two-week shutdown of non-essential activity, from midnight last night to Wednesday, April 15.
National Security Minister Stuart Young last Friday said people will have to justify to law enforcement—the Police Service and Defence Force—why they’re on the roadways.
He advised essential workers to keep their identification and letters from employers on their person, in the event they are stopped by police.
He said further on Saturday that the Ministry of National Security is requesting that people stay indoors and not exercise in public spaces because the medical experts have advised that being outside increases the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Some are under the impression they must stay in their house and only those who are essential workers are allowed freedom of movement—but this is not the case.
Young has said people can go to places such as supermarkets and pharmacies, but must do so quickly and get back home.
In a telephone interview with the Express yesterday, Police Commissioner Gary Griffith was asked whether police can arrest people who are non-essential workers who are on the roadways, or persons who exercise in public spaces.
“The answer simply is no. There is a strong misinterpretation and a high degree of misinformation that has been spread throughout the country, and it has caused undue panic.
“The vast majority of the country has the perception that after midnight you have to stay under house arrest for the next two weeks and cannot leave your home. That is untrue,” he said.
He said this panic caused people to rush to the supermarkets, markets, pharmacies and banks.
“Hundreds of persons were packed like channa in a doubles on the outside of these places, and this is a concern that can cause this epidemic to escalate,” he said.
He said if people were aware of the actual law, this would not have happened.
Griffith said people were panicking unnecessarily, noting that people with elderly parents or those who have disabled children were concerned the nurse or caregiver would be arrested if they attempted to go to work.
“Persons are concerned that if they go to visit their mother they could be arrested,” he said.
Griffith added that people with multiple homes who go to check on their properties to ensure they are not burgled are afraid they can be arrested if they continue to do this.
“To clarify, the Police Service will not in any way operate outside of what is within the law. No legislation has been passed, there is no change in the law that gives the police any extra authority or powers to do such.
“So, there is nothing this police can and would do as it pertains to arresting persons if they leave their homes,” he said.
He said in a state of emergency, that is when police are given extra powers.
However, Griffith said laws have been enacted which give the police authority to do two things.
“Persons can be arrested if they open businesses for the public that are non-essential, or if they assemble in groups of more than ten,” he said.
He said there is need for logical thinking because if there is a decision to open banks and supermarkets, then people would have to leave their homes to go to these places.
“If the media continue to operate and the media print newspapers, how are the people getting the newspapers? They have to leave their homes to get the newspapers,” he said.
“It is the same thing with exercising. people need to be responsible and understand. If I live in a residential area and I take a jog for 30 minutes by myself, that is not a health problem. If ten or more of us decide to do so, then it becomes a problem,” he said.
He said in some instances, if someone is living in a small home that is 1,000 square feet and you tell them to stay there for two weeks, that can affect that person’s health.
“If you have your own store that you operate, it is your right that you visit the store to ensure that it is secure,” he said.
“What the prime minister is rightly stating, and the police will assist is persuasion as much as possible—the less time you spend outside, the greater chance that you will not be affected and this virus will not spread,” he said.
He said people need to be sensible and do only what is necessary and return home.
“The police are not going to stop you from driving on the streets. There is no law that is enforced that is going to cause the police officer to arrest someone because they are out on the streets.
“It is not a state of emergency, it is not a curfew,” he said, adding it is a very fluid situation that requires people to use logic.
“I am not going to have the Police Service drop the ball and make the same mistake that is perceived to have been seen during the last state of emergency, where hundreds of persons were arrested based on a possible flawed process,” he said.
Griffith said the police alert level was lifted from yellow to orange to enhance its operational effectiveness—not because it has added powers.
Griffith’s explanation of the police powers is at odds with what Young said.
At a news conference at the Health Ministry last Friday, the National Security Minister named the long list of essential businesses that would be allowed to function during the two-week shutdown.
Young said: “Persons have been asking if we’ll be issuing passes. At the end of the day, it is going to be the police with the assistance of the Defence Force who are going to be policing this. everybody who is out there come midnight on Sunday, please walk with your identification.
“You will have to justify to any law enforcement officer with the support of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force who pulls you over and asks where are you going, you will have to fall into one of these categories that we’ve identified as an essential business, so employers may want to issue letters of authorisation to their essential workers who will be coming and going.
“Us, the rest of the public, will be going to groceries and pharmacies, a hardware. in the off instance, we will have to tell the police officers and the Defence Force officers where it is we are going, and please let us go and get back as soon as we can without the congregating,” he said.
“It’s really a plea the Government is doing, and has done all that it can reasonably do,” he said, as he emphasised it is not a state of emergency and people need to work together.
‘Not engage in exercise outside homes’
On Saturday, the National Security Ministry further issued a news release advising the public that the stay-at-home measures commencing last night meant persons should limit being outside their homes, unless they are part of the essential staff of essential businesses, or to conduct essential activity.
The release stated: “The Minister of National Security advises that as announced on Friday, March 27, 2020, the Government is requesting that persons to not engage in exercise outside their homes in public spaces.
“The medical experts have advised that persons exercising outside of their homes in public spaces carry and increase the risk of spreading COVID-19.
“Accordingly persons are being asked to refrain from exercising outside of their homes in public spaces whilst the stay-at-home provisions remain in place.”
Questioned further about this by the Express, the minister replied via WhatsApp: “This is the Government’s policy and advice to the population. The virus is spread by contact. The Government has asked people to stay at home.”
The Express reached out to Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi for some clarity, and he indicated the Public Health Ordinance orders fall under the purview of the health minister and the chief medical officer.
He noted the prime minister has led the charge, in asking people to quarantine themselves effectively and to obey the advice that has been given by the medical experts.
“The minister of national security last night (Saturday) put out a publication, urging the population to exercise restraint. I join the minister of national security in urging the population to be measured and restrained,” he said.
Asked if urging and pleading is enough, the AG replied: “Our conversation is a little premature because the rules go into effect from tonight, it is a fluid situation. It is a matter of moments that can witness the publication of further regulations.
“So we are not yet in the zone of the lockdown, we have been on the ‘urge side’—the prime minister has been urging people to be common-sensical and careful.”
He noted the police commissioner has been out and about, and would relay his own advice and recommendations to the health minister.
“If it is that people are not complying, in a moment’s notice that can be changed by virtue of a further application of the law,” said Al-Rawi.