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Barbados Journal Oct 2018

I have spent the past month learning a great deal about Barbados, and myself. This month I discovered that selecting “allow dirt roads” on your GPS is a big mistake in Barbados.

It all came about on a beautiful sunny morning. I was driving the kids to school and a house fire on the main road had traffic backed up for miles. It gave me the perfect opportunity to explore the island and I’d grown fond of discovering new sights around every turn.

On a small island like Barbados one would think it hard to get lost… but the island is filled with roads and cart paths that run over all kinds of terrain. And in the wet season (September to November) they fill with mud and clay. The problem is that the cart paths show up on GPS apps as dirt roads, even when they are little more than tractor paths through banana fields. Combine this with a glorious sunny morning, an open road in front of you, and the kids singing “Country Roads” in the back seat and it’s easy to feel invincible.

As I drove along the heavily pot-holed pavement, the road turned into a dirt cart path, and I didn’t listen to that small voice in my head whispering – ‘STOP!’. The view was amazing; we were driving along the edge of a mountain with a steep cliff edge to our left and the mountain rising up on our right.

It had rained the night before and I began to worry when the car started sliding. The road was narrow and the drop steep. My knuckles turned white as I gripped the wheel. The car rounded a corner and I could see that a few meters ahead the steep cliff turned into a gently sloping hill, but the car starting sliding towards the edge of the cliff just as I rounded the corner, and I nervously gunned it along the path praying we’d make it to the hill. Luckily we got there and I thought about turning around but didn’t want to face that slippery corner again. So I kept going and drove the car straight into almost 3 feet of clay that had filled a dip in the cart path.

I looked down at my silk pants, white top and high heels and realized I might not make it to my morning meeting and the kids would miss school.

My son and I put sticks and branches under the tires and after about an hour of trying we rocked the car out of the big mud pit (with half of it all over us). I found a small promontory to turn the car around and slowly headed back to the main road. Getting out of the mud was satisfying, but I was taking it too slow and became stuck again. This time we were on an upward slope and there was no way that my son and I could rock the car out. Luckily some men had arrived to work in the fields and immediately offered to help. They easily pushed the car out and around the corner to the paved road.

The whole time this fiasco was going on my daughter was sitting in the back seat, taking picture and pointing out how beautiful the view was. When finally arrived back at the main road she commented “Mum you always find a way to make a perfectly ordinary day turn into an adventure.” And that is how I hope they view every stupid thing that I do!

I have noticed that I am beginning to lose some of the terribly selfish driving habits I picked up in Toronto. Here ‘Bajans’ drive slow and easy, if they see a car wanting to cross the highway, they will stop to let them pass. They are kind. It’s unsettling if you’re from Toronto and driving far too quickly behind them, but over time you slow down and start to realize that being kind, and offering that public gesture, is important. I used to think that people are drawn to Barbados because of the slow pace, but I realize there is much more to it. The people here have grace and they cherish it. I hope a little of that grace rubs off on me.

Barbados is a beautiful country but it is the people that make it a terrific place to live.

Reforms allow women in Saudi Arabia to be entrepreneurs

The government of Saudi Arabia announced Sunday women will be able to start their own businesses without permissions of a male guardian. The announcement was made over Twitter by the Ministry of Commerce and Investment, saying “No need for a guardian’s position. Saudi women are free to start their own businesses freely. #NoNeed.”

This degree is part of prince Mohammad bin Salman’s Vision3030 plan, which aims to alter the economy so it isn’t so reliant on oil. To do this, the prince hopes to reduce female unemployment in the country and raise the number of women in the workforce from 22 per cent to 30 per cent.

This announcement is intriguing and somewhat startling for a society that has oppressed women for so many decades. Of course, little detail was released about enforcing this new decree and the challenges facing women once they decide to open a business, such as banking, employees, and sales. There is also a lot of pushback from more conservative members of state.

Back in September 2017, King Salman of Saudi Arabia issued a decree allowing women to be given driving licences as of June 2018. Since then, a Middle Eastern taxi app has signed up almost 1,000 female drivers in February. Their goal is to hire 10,000 by the end of the year. The Ministry of Labour is also reportedly looking into subsidizing car sharing for working women, as public transportation is so scarce.

Both of these decrees are positive changes to Saudi Arabian society; however, until they are implemented, it remains unknown as to how much of an impact they will have.

Early data shows King St. pilot a success

The first month of the King Street Pilot program was a success — the transit corridor has seen improved service during rush hours and drivers were only affected by a few minutes.

The first set of transit and traffic data was released Tuesday by the city. Over the next year, the City of Toronto will be analyzing the impact on transit service, flow of traffic on parallel streets, and the effects on cyclists, pedestrians, and local businesses. The statistics provided Tuesday only represent the first two weeks of the study.

The data found that transit service during the afternoon rush hour has already significantly improved. Travel time has reduced from 25 minutes to 22 minutes eastbound, and 24 minutes to 19.7 minutes westbound.

Drivers have seen variations of a plus or minus one minute, which is impressive considering the first two weeks resulted in a big learning curve for drivers, who were no longer allowed to drive straight through an intersection along the stretch of the pilot. The data also looked at streets parallel to King St., as drivers are forced to turn right  at each respective intersection. So far, those corridors are not being clogged with cars.

“Measurement is vital to the King Street pilot, and will ensure we can make any necessary adjustments so the street and surrounding area works for transit customers, cyclists, pedestrians, drivers and business owners as well as local residents,” said Mayor John Tory in a statement. “We also appreciate the feedback of local businesses, transit users, and the taxi industry and will continue to address any concerns as quickly as possible.”

The King Street pilot runs from Jarvis to Bathurst. The corridor funnels drivers to parallel east-west routes like Queen St., Richmond, Adelaide, Wellington, or Front, while still allowing local drivers to access the street for short periods of time. It began on Nov. 12.

Data will be released every month on that same date.

Uber says “au revoir” to Quebec’s new regulations

There is a reason #Uber is trending. The popular ride-hailing company has made the news twice this week, with both issues spreading negative light on the company’s corporate operations. In a bold move, Uber announced they would cease operations in Quebec due to stricter regulations being imposed by the transportation department in that city. One such condition was the request that Uber drivers undergo 35 hours of training to match the requirements of regular taxi drivers.

Uber was operating in Quebec under a pilot project agreement that allowed the service to operate legally in the province for one year. This permit was initially set to be renewed under the new conditions. The Transportation Minister of Quebec, Laurent Lessard, agreed with these new rules and also requested that Uber carry out criminal checks on their drivers and have their cars inspected every 12 months.

In response, Uber executives felt the decision was brash and unnecessary. The director general for Uber Quebec, Jean-Nicolas Guillemette, said the company will cease operations if these changes and rules are imposed. Guillemette said Uber was not consulted about these changes. Guillemette further want on to say he wants the government to renew the operational permit and then resume negotiations on these new rules after.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said Uber’s response was “bullish” and “condescending,” and that Uber was probably concerned these restrictions will create a precedent for other cities.

“Bye-bye, I don’t care,” were the words spoken by Coderre, who said the extra training should not be a burden for a company of that size company.

The Ministry of Transport remains firm on their decision and noted they are not in negotiation mode. With that being said, Uber decided to officially leave Quebec on Oct 14.

Uber executives have also been busy this week after government officials in London, UK, decided not to renew their operational license in that city, saying they will not be providing private-hire operational licenses. Prior to this decision, Uber was only issued a four-month temporary license.

In some ways this was a test pilot for the City of London and in the end they were not pleased with Uber’s performance. The explanation by London Transport was that Uber held a “lack of corporate responsibility” and would fail to report minor to serious offences. Uber has since issued a public apology to the City of London. Uber’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi apologized to the world for all the company’s mistakes, saying “it’s worth examining how we got here, and the truth is that there is a high cost to a bad reputation.”

Last year in Austin, Texas, Uber suspended operations after city council passed regulations to have drivers submit to background checks and fingerprinting. Earlier this year they returned to Austin after the governor in Texas signed a law to overpower the city’s rules

Uber has already been banned in a few countries and cities, including Italy, Denmark, Taiwan, cities in Auatralia, India and now London.

Back in the spring of 2016, Uber threatened to suspend operations in Toronto if city council passed rules to impose high-fees on drivers. The rule was not passed and Uber still continues to operate in Toronto.

Toronto Mayor John Tory unveils new six-step traffic plan

On Monday morning, Toronto Mayor John Tory unveiled six new steps to unlock gridlock and combat traffic plaguing the city.

The steps of the new traffic plan centre around enforcement and technology — utilizing all of Toronto’s resources to help people move more efficiently. According to the mayor, the plan will build on the progress the city has made and the foundation created by the study of traffic hotspots last year.

Here are the six steps of the new traffic plan:

  1. The mayor wants to establish “quick clear squads” that will help fix temporary lane blockages on major roads like the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway. The two rapid-response squads will help clear roads in the event of an accident, for example, to keep traffic moving.
  2. Creating full-time traffic wardens at congestion hotspots throughout Toronto. City staff employed a number of full-time police officers during their traffic warden pilot program earlier this year, with great success. By the first half of 2018, the mayor hopes to be able to maintain the program with city staff rather than police officers.
  3. Requesting utility companies like Toronto Hydro to confine non-emergency work to off-peak hours between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. This will reduce the number of lane closures during commuter hours.
  4. Sharing city traffic data with Waze next month to help both traffic operations and communicate traffic patterns to the public and blockages. Waze is a community-based real-time traffic and navigation app. The mayor announced a partnership with Waze back in June.
  5. Installing smart signals in November to help monitor the flow of traffic and change signal lengths in real-time.
  6. Asking city staff for a report on possible fine increases for traffic blocking offences.

“We owe it to drivers, cyclists, pedestrians and transit riders to make sure our city moves in the best way possible,” the mayor said in a statement. “While we have made progress improving how you get around, we can always do more. I am determined to deal with the congestion choking our roads. I’m here today to highlight the next steps we’re taking to tackle Toronto’s traffic because you deserve a better commute.”

King St. Pilot makes transit the priority

Thursday, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and city staff made their second presentation on the King St. Pilot, a plan that will hopefully alleviate congestion along the car-heavy corridor to make it more transit-friendly.

“What we are trying to do here is to improve transit service for the 65,000 passengers on the busiest transit route in the city,”said Jacquelyn Hayward Gulati, Director of Transportation Infrastructure Management with the City of Toronto. “That’s three times as many drivers who use the corridor. We are trying to move the most people the most efficient way.”

The pilot will cover six kilometres of King St., from Jarvis to Bathurst. The corridor would funnel drivers to parallel east-west routes like Queen St., Richmond, Adelaide, Wellington, or Front, while still allowing local drivers to access the street for short periods of time.

According to Gulati, making King St. completely car-free would take immense resources, as there are driveways and parking garages that can be accessed from that corridor. Instead, city staff has designed a plan allowing local residents to drive on King St., but only between intersections. These vehicles must turn right at the next traffic signal. Physical barriers will be used to prevent vehicles other than the streetcars from passing through the intersection.

There is also going to be designated spaces for short-term loading, deliveries, and taxis, something business owners indicated was a necessity.

Photo courtesy of City of Toronto.

“People will access the section of King that they need to access for their local trip,” Gulati said. “We are looking to have the amount of mixed traffic dialled down to such an extent that we expect to see streetcar improvements, but it is a pilot project and that’s what we want to learn from this.”

Cyclists, transit users, and emergency vehicles would be the only commuters allowed to cross intersections. However, there would be no dedicated bike lanes.

This particular corridor between Bathurst and Jarvis was chosen because it has the worst transit service on King St. The goal of this pilot would be to see additional improvements in reliability, speed, and capacity on the King St. streetcar — more people walking or using transit and less people driving.

The estimated budget level cost is $1.5 million, but that is bound to change once the design has been finalized after Thursday’s public meeting.

If all goes well, a final report will be presented at a June TTC board meeting and then will be sent to approval by City Council in July. The plan is to be able to implement the King St. Pilot by the Fall of 2017 or Spring 2018.

What do you think of the King St. Pilot? Let us know in the comments below!