Public transport overhaul could cost CI$50M

| 09/11/2023 | 93 Comments
Public buses at George Town depot on Grand Cayman, Cayman News Service
Public buses at George Town depot

(CNS): The long-awaited report from Deloitte reviewing the local transport network indicates that replacing the current mismatched private transport system with an electric government-owned and managed fleet, with depots, community routes and bus lanes, could cost at least $50 million. However, this will cut traffic by more than 20%, reduce emissions and create a reliable, modern system that the public will want to use.

The report was completed and handed to Cabinet back in May but only made public this week. It outlines a full overhaul of the existing private bus system and offers two options for a formal, publicly owned and run network.

The first option is to create a government-run public bus system that provides services to all districts and communities on Grand Cayman, where all but a few routes originate from a single central bus depot. This could include a community service originating from the depot, along with designated loading locations for other routes.

The second option is for a government-run system with a central bus depot and sub-depots within selected communities, a drop-off and pick-up point for an express bus service to and from the central depot, and a park-and-ride for travellers using the express service only.

The recommendations emerged from what the consultants found were the inadequacies of the current system. The 154-page report outlines a significant number of recommendations, such as redesigning the routes, scheduling and hours of operations, as well as training staff and providing wifi aboard what would be electric buses.

With many areas, including Red Bay, Prospect, Savanah, Newlands, Northward, Beach Bay and Bodden Town, inadequately serviced by the existing buses, the consultants set out a plan for a much more comprehensive system, with bigger buses running more frequently and around the clock along additional routes.

But the costs could mount significantly, given the price of bigger EV buses, the need for a redeveloped depot in George Town, new sub-depots, bus lanes, bus shelters, many more drivers and the technology required for users to check an app to see where their bus is.

In September 2022, Deloitte won the $200,000 contract to assess the public transport strategy and propose a new public bus system. The consultants began by engaging with stakeholders, including the island’s largest employers and the current bus owners, as well as the public transport unit, which currently coordinates the private drivers who provide the existing limited bus routes.

The report makes it clear that for either of the two options the consultants have proposed, transitioning to a new modern national transport system will require a great deal of work by “a qualified team of change management professionals given the complexity of the change requirements”.

With a price tag in excess of $50 million to complete the process, the report stresses the importance of maintaining affordable fares that work out less costly than owning a private car. The consultants note that the importation of cheap cars to Cayman has been driven by the inadequate system. They noted that there are almost 6,000 Honda Fits on the road, most of which are at least ten years old, illustrating how many people have defaulted to cheap cars to get around Cayman in the absence of a reliable bus service.

The consultants also warn that getting this costly project right will require a clear definition of what success looks like for the system. The main aims are to reduce traffic congestion, improve the passenger experience, increase productivity for employers and reduce the cost of living with a lower-cost transport option.

“It is difficult to determine if a national government-run public bus system will deliver… unless it is designed to achieve the stated results,” the consultants stated, advising the government on the importance of aligning stakeholders on the expected outcomes.

The success, they said, will also depend on the efficient transition from the current service to one run by the government. Despite its inadequacies, many people still rely on the current system, and the service cannot be reduced during the transition. The government will have to ensure that the “response from the private operators is carefully managed”, the consultants said, given the need for the existing services to be maintained until the new buses roll out.

In a press release after the report was finally made public, officials from the Ministry of Planning, Agriculture, Housing and Infrastructure, which is now responsible for transport, revealed it had been given the green light by Cabinet to develop a business case to create a Department of Transportation.

It will look at bringing the National Roads Authority (NRA), the Department of Vehicle and Driver’s Licensing (DVDL) and the Public Transport Unit (PTU) together as one entity dedicated to organising, designing and maintaining all aspects of local transport. This department would also be charged with implementing the new government transport network.

“This is the first step in more than a structural change,” said Transport Minister Jay Ebanks. “By analysing these departments collectively and holistically, we are laying down the tracks for a transportation system that is safer, more reliable, and ready to meet the demands of our growing population.”

It was not clear from the release what the minister or ministry officials think of the costly report from Deloitte. It merely stated that the ministry would be “harnessing insights” from it and would “make informed, data-driven decisions that will underpin the future transportation blueprint”. The ministry also said it is working with a team of dedicated transport experts from the UK’s Department for Transport.

Officials said they will be spending the next six months developing projects and strategies to deliver a transport system that meets the community’s current and future needs.

See the full report on the government website here.

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Comments (93)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    An intriguing observation is made on page 26 of the report: “Implement legislation and offer incentives aimed at diminishing the utilization of gasoline and diesel-fueled automobiles.” In essence, the strategy to achieve a 20% reduction in road users involves prohibiting and penalizing the use of fuel-powered vehicles.

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