Last week, I witnessed what could have been a horrendous accident. Travelling west, not far from Harrington Hundreds Road at 10.15am, I watched a livery scooter with a driver and a pillion passenger lose control in the eastbound lane and hit a wall. They tumbled to the ground.
Both elderly tourists were fortunately conscious, suffering from road rash. There were obvious broken bones and heavy bruising and cuts. The attendees at the scene all did their bit, from lending comfort, gathering the scattered belongings of the tourists, redirecting traffic and calling emergency services. It struck me when I was holding the hand of the female victim that they were incredibly lucky not to have been killed. I am pleased to say that the victims were transported to hospital quickly and did not suffer from life-threatening injuries — ribs, arms and an ankle were broken or cracked between the two.
This is the second time I have been on the scene of a bike accident that was relatively serious. You may recall that one of the reasons I was a forceful advocate of the Twizy was because of its ability to provide our tourists with a safer transportation option — this because in 2010 I came upon a terrible incident in Dockyard, where one tourist ended up losing her leg.
While introducing the Twizy, I ran into forceful and vocal opposition from a large number of taxi drivers who were convinced that allowing Twizys on the road would affect their livelihood. I was not convinced by the arguments against the Twizy, and I remain unconvinced.
Having witnessed the recent accident and vaguely recalling the incident from a number of years ago, my ten-year-old son asked me: “Dad, why did they not just rent a Twizy?”
Well, what could I say? Not a lot, sadly, since I had no real answer. I did not bore him with information that while the Government completes a Transport Plan, no additional Twizy vehicles can be licensed to increase the livery available to the public.
I did not get into protectionist attitudes appearing to be more important than road safety. I did not explain to him that as we continue to drag our feet, more people will die and more visitors will leave Bermuda with life-changing injuries.
It is all so very frustrating. All I said to my son was that things need to change and attitudes must evolve before people realise how dangerous it is for tourists to ride livery cycles.
And now you are thinking: if a ten-year-old knows, then why do others not also grasp the problem?
Indeed. I’ve said it before that my one year as transport minister was one of the most frustrating experiences I have ever had in dealing with the absoluteness of bureaucracy. Layer upon layer of it. And each layer means it is less likely something will be done.
So where are we on all the road-safety initiatives that are spoken about year after year? Where is the voice of the new chairman of the Bermuda Road Safety Council? Where is the Transport Plan touted by the Minister of Transport and Regulatory Affairs as the saviour to all our problems almost ten months into the first year of government?
Remember that there are still fewer vehicles on the road now than ten years ago.
Here are my top three things that must happen and can happen in a short space of time when there is little or no political opposition to oppose:
1, Lift the apparent moratorium on importation of Twizys and other related vehicles for rental by tourists, and stop giving into the special interest groups.
2, Install speed cameras, which can be done using, to a large extent, existing infrastructure. A public-private partnership would be sensible here — installation costs for a percentage of fines collected. Keep it simple
3, Have the police conduct random roadside sobriety testing and let the court decide whether such a move is unconstitutional.
Every day that we work on studies, plans and consultation documents that take years to finalise and approve, more people are injured or die on our roads. It seems to me that if the Government can draft legislation for blockchain and fintech in record time, then surely these three items can be done at the wave of a hand. The issues in transport do not relate to Twizys or other vehicles. They relate to a taxi industry largely resistant to change and a bus service that is equally resistant to change. A strong minister with a 24-12 majority in Parliament, and with the unions in his pocket, can make things happen.
On an entirely different note, we must support the Government in its efforts to defend Bermuda’s economic interest and push back strongly on any attempt to undermine our constitutional rights. And I’m talking here specifically about public beneficial ownership registers and the requirement that if any Overseas Territory does not introduce a publicly accessible register of the beneficial ownership of companies, the British Secretary of State must, by December 31, 2020, prepare a draft Order in Council requiring it to do so.
Such a move would be unprecedented for Bermuda.
I also agree that the failure of the British Parliament to include the Crown dependencies in its legislative directive certainly has the look and feel of colonialism gone mad, with a measure of racism to boot. The issue, however, is that the May Government is weak and divided and the power of the Marxist caucus of the opposition Labour party will continue to make life difficult.
The Premier will have to fight very hard against a British Parliament and its double standards — but, I am sorry to say, given the hypocrisy of our government to date, I’m sure he can manage.
Michael Fahy is a former Minister of Home Affairs, Minister of Tourism, Transport and Municipalities, and Junior Minister of Finance under the One Bermuda Alliance government