~ After operators sent letter ~
By Alfred Harley
PHILIPSBURG–Police will be requested to relax control of Article 60A of the Windward Islands Traffic Ordinance following a letter submitted to Justice Minister Cornelius de Weever by nearly ten of the largest operators of heavy vehicles, informing him of the financial strain on their operations based on the law in its present form.
The heavy vehicle operators in St. Maarten submitted the urgent petition Thursday in a bid to avert having to execute their “only alternative” which would be the increase of construction material cost by as much as 20 per cent to cover overtime and other costs incurred because of their normal eight-hour operation being expanded by an average of five hours.
As a result, Minister De Weever said, “I will advise the Police Force to temporarily relax the law until the island’s road infrastructure is expanded. At present, Article 60 A as well as some others are being reviewed.”
However, he noted that during the temporary exemption he will request that the operation of heavy vehicles avoid school districts to ensure safety and security for all who use the road network.
The companies, led by St. Maarten Concrete, include Central Mix Concrete Supply, St. Maarten Building Supplies (SBS), Sol Antilles, Kooyman SXM, Intermar Shipping and Stevedoring, Wadadli Building Supplies, and JMC and Corporan Trucking. They stated in their letter to the minister that the law is antiquated and does not reflect present times or types of vehicles used.
Central to their complaint letter is that their delivery of goods and services to customers is restricted by the law from 6:30-8:30am and 12:00 to 2:30pm. The restriction applies every day except Sundays.
The letter states that the Traffic Ordinance poses a major impediment to their operational ability during a time when there is still a very urgent need for especially reconstruction material, concrete and lumber, but also general goods and services.
St. Maarten Concrete Managing Director Franklin David spearheaded the initiative. He said, “The law should be revised to consider the use of modern vehicles with improved security and safety.”
David said the existing law means companies lose five hours of operating time each day, which they must make up for to meet the demand for products. He has garnered overwhelming support from Central Mix Concrete Supply, St. Maarten Building Supplies (SBS), Sol Antilles, Kooyman SXM, ACE SXM, Intermar Shipping and Stevedoring, Chevron Caribbean Inc., Wadadli Building Supplies, JMC and Corporan Trucking.
These companies combined employ nearly 800 people and the law is forcing them to operate for 12 and 18 hours to complete eight hours of work for the same revenue. They understand the need for improved road network, eliminating traffic congestion and improving road safety. However, while 50 years ago heavy vehicles generally moved slowly and contributed to traffic jams, they are now victims of traffic congestion caused largely by increased numbers of motor vehicles in general, with limited and small roads.
Legal experts say the law’s objective should be the regulation and use of vehicles on the roads in a way that promotes public safety and manage the impact of heavy vehicles on the road.
A revised law must consider industry productivity in the transport of goods and passengers by heavy vehicle operators, vehicular contribution to pollution, road infrastructure and public amenities. It seems the existing law creates significant inconsistencies in traffic controls. Some operators believe their competitors are exempt from the law, while others abide by the restriction at a hefty cost.
Police Chief Commissioner Carl John and President of Parliament Sarah Wescot-Williams also received a copy of the letter. The heavy vehicle operators are seeking their support to revive the discussion on a change to the law. The companies have once again opened their doors to working “even closer” with police and lawmakers to create a law that is efficient and innovative and promotes safe driving practices.
According to the companies, the law should consider improvements in design and increased thermal efficiency and fuel economy of both gasoline and diesel engines.
Pointing out “a serious technology gap between the ordinance and their vehicles” the companies said the makers of heavy vehicles have significantly improved aerodynamics, engine and powertrain efficiencies, and reduced weight of the tractor and trailers, while the law is based on older, larger, slower, heavier and less-safe equipment, no longer the industry standard.
When the law forces all heavy vehicles off the road between 12:00pm and 2:30pm, this means that “all trucks, trailers and concrete mixer trucks” will re-enter the main road at the same time.
Another concern is that large tour buses do not seem to be affected by this law, and while it is understandable that they play a critical role in the island’s main economy, it further illustrates the law’s shortcomings and the need for its revision.
With material shortage following Hurricane Irma in 2017 now resolved, the new challenge is delivering it to those who need it most urgently, especially considering we are nearing another hurricane season with so many homes not yet repaired.
David Antrobus of Sol Antilles weighed in on the subject of Article 60-A and its restriction. He said the law “is costing us lots of money” and is especially problematic when some companies ignore it and others lose business to them because they are willing to risk fines by police or being pulled off the road.
Antrobus said, “We are very much interested in seeing what can be done and in having a clear picture of what the law permits and does not permit, and what the consequences are.”
Intermar Shipping said the sad reality is that this law affects the general importer of goods daily because its ability to restock supplies for customers depends on whether it can get the products they ordered on time from the harbour. Recent roadworks in Pointe Blanche have also compounded the already-untenable situation.
Ivan Havertong of SBS said the present law creates a backlog on delivery of products to consumers that rolls over sometimes two days, based on volume.
He said, “I would like that they (Government) realise that the law is outdated. We work with police to identify sources of concrete spills on the public highway. We routinely inspect vehicles as a rule, as we are concerned about road safety in general. But in my 22 years in the business, the reality is that prime hours of daylight for construction work remain 7:00am to 4:00pm.”
He said the law unfairly pushes companies to operate longer hours for the same turnover. What could be done in an eight-hour business day now has to take a minimum of 12 hours, generating higher cost of operation
Kooyman’s management said there are more pressing matters, such as truck drivers having no proper licences to drive the trucks they operate, and trucks not properly insured. “We do what we are supposed to do and ensure that our vehicles are properly insured,” it said.
According to the company, the law affects not just concrete, but all deliveries. The company said, “Our marketing strategy includes delivery within 24 hours, and we are losing business because we are unable to deliver. Customers go to those who will take the risk of being stopped and fined by police, but for us it is simply not worth it. We have not let go anyone since the hurricane, and in fact we hired more people and this enforcement means more cost on the company. We can understand limiting the times we access high-density areas where schools are.”
Concrete supply company Central Mix said it understands the need for some restrictions during the morning hours when children are headed to school and everyone else is travelling to work. However, it said the 12:00-2:30pm curfew is a bit rough and burdens its ability to operate. According to D. Richardson of Central Mix, “We start at 5:00am to try to beat the curfew which means that by the end of the day we have a significant amount of overtime.”
James Carty of JMC stated candidly, “Heavy vehicle operators will in unison have to increase prices to cover overtime and other expenses if we are not able to reach a reasonable solution.”
He said his company understands the matter may be politically sensitive, “but we believe the complaints will be more if the entire community is suddenly faced with a price increase in construction materials at a time when we are all trying to rebuild.”
He said, “Already the small man is being squeezed with construction of homes being done at an unusually high price, in part because the contractor is working longer hours to accommodate for late delivery of product.”
The risk for the consumer includes price gouging because of an old law that keeps delivery vehicles off the road for five hours from Monday to Saturday, while the truck drivers themselves are stuck in traffic daily, not because of heavy vehicles, but based on bottlenecks in the road network.
WADADLI Manager Keith Joseph is also feeling the severe impact of the restrictions on road use and said he has had to work until 3:00am to transport products from the Pointe Blanche Harbour to his facility just two miles away. He said there are often times when he needs cement for clients but cannot get it because the factory must close at 3:30pm, after opening before 5:00am in a bid to beat the curfew.
Joseph said, “This hurts my bottom line and many others, because we offer a one-stop-shopping solution for construction material, and when I don’t have one product through no fault of my own, I lose that customer.”
The law appears to be creating problems at the Port, according to reports. It seems ships cannot move because of the delay in offloading due to the restrictions, and that in turn delays other vessels, creating a snowball effect. With this will probably come additional charges at the harbour, which international suppliers will initially incur on future shipments, but will pass on to importers of goods. The natural result is the local consumer paying more at the counter.
Joseph said, “I think restricting the trucks in school zones during opening of schools will be better than taking away five hours.”
Ultimately, the heavy vehicle operators hope to have an audience with Government, and Parliament to hammer out a meaningful solution.