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Fixing Curaçao's broken transport system



It appears the current transport system in Curaçao is failing and is destined to keep failing. Why? Because we have all the elements to keep a failing transport system alive:


1. A non-functioning public transport system

2. A car-centric culture

3. Too much focus on car infrastructure

4. A lack of long-term visions

5. A lack of technological innovations.


The bright side? There are many solutions to break this vicious cycle and develop a healthy and attractive transport system. In this article, we discuss the problems with Curaçao’s current transport system and share ideas on how to solve these challenges.


A well-functioning transport system gets people from A to B in an effective, efficient, and safe manner. The current transport system in Curaçao is only complying with the first criteria. People are getting from A to B, but not efficiently and safely. Travelers must put a lot of effort to get around quickly on an island of only 444 km2. Surely, there must be another way.


1. A non-functioning public transport system

Having to wait 30 minutes on average to get a bus, which is subsidized by the government, makes using public transport unattractive. In addition to long waiting times, passengers spend a lot of time in vehicles because of frequent stopping and traffic jams on the island. The waiting and travel time sum up to total travel times of up to an hour for small distances, usually less than 20 km. This same distance can be covered by car in half the time or less. Choosing the car over the bus is a no-brainer. With 473 cars per 1,000 inhabitants in 2017 [1], our preferred choice of transport results in sizable traffic jams, which again leads to other problems.

The fix:

  • Increase bus frequencies

  • Introduce visible time-tables at bus stops and real-time travel information through apps and dynamic travel information panels

  • Introduce dedicated bus lanes to bypass traffic jams


2. A car-centric culture

“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation”, stated the former mayor of Bogotá Gustavo Petro. As better public transport was offered, and people became more aware of sustainability, inhabitants of developed countries do not associate car ownership with signs of wealth. In Curaçao, we have not reached this stage yet, and with the current system, it might take a while.

For many, owning a car is still seen as a status symbol. The more cars you have and the more expensive and flashy they are, the higher your status. Multiple financing options for personal vehicles make them accessible for many to purchase without actually being able to afford it. Even if you do not care for flashy cars, or if you want to be more sustainable, you are pretty much forced to use a car if you wish to get around freely. Why? Because the alternative, as mentioned before, is worse. For short distances, walking could be considered a substitute. However, with destinations spread out, unsafe sidewalks, if any, and a lack of shade, walking remains less attractive than driving. In the meanwhile, we will continue being dependent on cars, dedicate chunks of land to parking lots, spend large parts of our savings on cars and gas, contribute to air pollution, and waste our time queuing in traffic jams. Check our walkability article for more on this subject.

The fix:

  • Create a public transport system that is safe, affordable and reliable and thus a viable alternative to cars

  • Make short distances attractive for walking

  • Disincentivize car use and promote sustainable modes of transport

  • Share rides when possible


3. Too much focus on car infrastructure

If there is one transport infrastructure that gets a lot of attention on the island, it is the car infrastructure. This should not come as a surprise. Governments invest a lot of money in maintaining and improving the car infrastructure forgetting about other efficient alternatives like dedicated bus lanes and rapid bus infrastructure.

One must also say that even a highly attractive public transport system is not a magic wand that will solve our transport problems. Not even if it is for free. If public transport were to be free, like in Luxemburg, it should still be of good quality. Otherwise, it will remain an unattractive option. Besides focusing on car infrastructure, policymakers must also start focusing on human behavior. How can we entice people to leave their car home and start using alternatives? Giving attention mainly to more car lanes, better traffic flow, more efficient intersections for cars, is only making it more attractive for cars. Instead, we must start thinking about measures to make car usage less attractive compared to better and new alternatives.

The fix:

  • Re-allocate investments by allocating a more significant fixed sum of the infrastructure budget to other sustainable modes of transport

  • Get more insight into what motivates people to lower car-use


4. A lack of long-term visions

Short-term solutions that solve today’s problems are very tempting. We tend to reach for solutions where the effects are directly noticeable, but which can have adverse effects in the long-term. These are the types of solutions politicians are enticed to take. Elections are right around the corner, and the results must be visible before the end of their political term. This thinking sustains a short-sighted political and governmental system, with all the consequences this can have for our society. It takes a long-term vision to realize the previously mentioned fixes. A proper transport system is not built overnight.


The fix:

  • Create a long-term transport roadmap with multiple milestones

  • Ensure that set milestones are not introduced to benefit tomorrow, but instead of this the days after tomorrow

5. A lack of technological innovation

Technological innovation is crucial to create, promote, and maintain an attractive transport system. Currently, we are lagging in this area. Worldwide, in the mobility sector, we see innovative ideas such as Mobility-as-a-Service, car-sharing systems, Intelligent mobility apps, Intelligent Traffic Light Installations, E-vehicles, driverless cars, and many more. We are either behind on implementing such ideas or did not start yet. Even though we must be critical when introducing these innovations and finding out what works best in the island’s context, we can do much better in this area. After all, novel ideas serve as an excellent catalyzer for stimulating a wonderful transport system.


The fix:

  • Create more incentives to stimulate public, private and academical technological innovation

  • Introduce a physical innovation center to cluster technical ideas and insights to catalyze technological innovation


Our current transport system is failing to comply with the standards of a well-functioning transport system. Many elements within this system are not well-aligned with each other or are missing entirely. The five items presented in this article highlight the biggest problems we face in creating a proper transport system, and a selection of fixes to tackle these challenges. In the end, we want to achieve a well-functioning system that not only gets people from A to B but also does this efficiently and safely. We must start discussing these solutions today to create a better transport system for the current and the coming generations.



References

  1. Transforming Urban Curaçao. February 2019. UNOPS.

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