Traffic solutions discussed at Chamber meeting

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 13, No. 18            May 15, 2003

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The Ambergris Caye Chamber of Commerce provided the following information from the minutes of their last meeting. Invited guests were Belize Rural South Area Representative Manuel Heredia Jr., Ambergris Caye Traffic Control Committee Chairman (ACTCC) Milo Paz Jr., South End Neighborhood Watch President Wil Lala, North End Neighborhood Watch Secretary Ali Campbell, Citizens Safety Committee Director Corey McDermott and San Pedro Police Inspector Aaron Guzman.

    Guest speaker Milo Paz Jr., as ACCTC Chairman, provided the following traffic information for those gathered. The Traffic Committee is a seven-member board, which includes two members of the San Pedro Town Council and two advisors from Central Government. They are responsible for the number and size of vehicles allowed on the island, for recommendations on traffic signs, parking and enforcement. The Committee is empowered by law at the Central Government level. The Minister of Transport has the authority to implement traffic solutions for San Pedro, but will only do so with public support.

    Mr. Paz stated that the Committee has received many suggestions to improve the traffic situation, but there is no comprehensive plan in place. There are rules, laws and legislations, but to a great extent these are ignored or circumvented. For example, it is illegal to sell a vehicle inclusive of permit, but frequently cart rental companies and taxi owners are able to accomplish it.

    The ACCTC Chairman explained that it is easy to circumvent the rules because of the different entities responsible for the permitting and licensing of vehicles, and for the enforcing of the rules. He stressed the importance of the Committee's need for independence from the San Pedro Town Council and Transport Department in order to be effective. Area Representative Manuel Heredia Jr. stressed the importance of working together on these traffic issues to ensure a solution that was beneficial to all.

    According to Mr. Paz, in order to achieve this, the Committee needs a central office and staff to be able to exercise some control over the power it has already been granted. He added that, unfortunately, the only revenue available to the Committee is from parking and traffic tickets, neither of which generates much revenue. Monies collected from vehicle permits are part of the Town Council revenues and used primarily for annual road maintenance expenses. He lamented that the Town Council had denied the Committee's request for an annual budget of $21,000.

    The ACTCC Chairman then discussed several solutions to major traffic issues with input from various attendees. These solutions were:

Alleviate Congestion on Barrier Reef Drive - Use the Old Football Field for downtown parking, especially business owners and employees. If kept open during business hours with a security guard, the cost would be $1 per day or $100 per year, with revenues offsetting the cost of signs and security. In conjunction with a new parking facility, front street traffic could be redirected to funnel vehicles down Black Coral Street to the parking facility, thereby limiting traffic on the remainder of Barrier Reef Drive. Enforcement of a one-hour parking time limit on Barrier Reef Drive would generate revenue for the Committee. It was also suggested that the signs notifying street closure on weekend evenings be reworded to advise closure to "vehicular" traffic.

Traffic Enforcement - Police have the authority to issue tickets for traffic violations, including speeding (using radar guns as evidence). There is a need for increased communication between police, transport and traffic personnel regarding vehicles legally allowed on the island. Inspector Guzman will gladly enforce traffic laws and vehicle policy if those laws and policies are clearly stated. It was also stated that enforcement has bi-partisan support. Mr. Paz noted that in order to provide this information, the Committee needs staff to assemble the data and to keep it current.

Appeals to Higher Authority - Ministers, town councilors and others in positions of authority should NOT be allowed to overturn the decisions of the Traffic Committee concerning the importation of vehicles onto Ambergris Caye. This includes any concessions made by Central Government to large business investors who want one or more vehicles to support their investment. The Minister of Transport has agreed to this principle. All San Pedro residents and groups who support this position will be asked to endorse this position in a letter, which will be drafted by the groups attending this meeting.  

Number of Vehicles Allowed - Mr. Paz suggested that a mandatory re-registration of all vehicles on the island, at no charge, would provide the Committee with a definitive number of each class of vehicle currently on the island. This is the first step in controlling the number of vehicles on the island. However, this requires office space and staff to implement.

Parking - There are laws in place, but not currently enforced, that require any new construction, business or residential, to provide adequate parking. Communication and coordination between the Ambergris Caye Planning Committee and the Traffic Committee needs to improve.

Applications and Permits - The Traffic Committee should implement an application fee for all vehicle permits. This fee is non-refundable and does not guarantee approval. Taxi permits should be evaluated on a semi-annual basis and should include a physical safety inspection and a written report from the police department citing any traffic violations, citations or incidents.

    In light of these suggestions and the need for office space and staff to implement these much-needed controls, Wil Lala, Bob Campbell and Corey McDermott each volunteered $1,600 to compensate a Traffic Committee staff member for a six-month period. This should allow time for revenue-generating measures or changes to be implemented.

    The Chamber and other committees/associations represented at this meeting will draft letters to Central Government voicing outrage at their policy of granting vehicular permits and pier concessions without the approval of local government and other authorities.

    (Editors note: The Traffic Committee, along with several other committees, reports to, are appointed and given powers by Central Government. It would seem that Central Government should be responsible for the operating budget of these committees. The taxpayers of this island have no input as to how these committees function. The private sector should not have to pay additional money to operate Central Government committees. The enormous amount of taxes the businesses on the island pay to Central Government should be enough to finance these committees. Central Government has been, and is, in charge of these committees - why are they not included in the budget? Where are our tax dollars going?
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