Sun | Mar 24, 2019

Don’t just drive in the dark

Published:Wednesday | February 20, 2019 | 12:26 AM

The Government, obviously, has a sense that there are a fair bit of motor vehicles in Jamaica and that the road infrastructure to accommodate them is inadequate, especially in the case of the Kingston metro region. We know this because of the substantial amount of road – upgrading work taking place in the capital, and elsewhere.

For instance, the Constant Spring Road – a key north-south corridor for the slow slopes of the Stony Hill area, on to where it merges into Half-Way Tree Road – is being widened and turned into a dual carriageway.

Hagley Park Road, the city’s only significant east-west artery, is being similarly redeveloped, including with the construction of an overpass at its westernmost end, at the Portia Simpson Miller Square.

There is, too, among others, the upgrading and modernisation of the Nelson Mandela Highway, which takes traffic in and out of Kingston, to connect with the highways leading to the south-central and northern parts of the island.

These developments, we expect, will result with a more efficient management of traffic in the Kingston/St Andrew and St Catherine regions, leading to the improvement of national, social and economic well-being, which we presume the Government would have calculated.

Can we be accurate?

What we are not clear about, though, is how well it would have done that, or if there is even a position to do it with any accuracy. Any such analysis, as well as a broader mapping of the needs for dual carriageways and highways in Jamaica, should start with having a relatively accurate count of the number of vehicles operating in the island. That, based on an analysis conducted by financial services group Jamaica National (JN), and quoted by this newspaper, doesn’t seem to be the case.

The JN research was primarily to determine the numbers, and ratio, of automobiles in Jamaica that are insured, which is one of the services the company provides. That could be somewhere about 15 per cent to half, or maybe closer to 60 per cent, of the registered vehicles in Jamaica (which depends on which of the base figures you use), the varied numbers of which are provided by the Government.

Insurance is required for the registration of motor vehicles in Jamaica – the logic of which is strong. Obligatory insurance removes, or greatly lessens, any uncertainty about compensation for damage or injury as a result of vehicle accidents.

Yet, the JN report concluded: “Although it is mandated by law that all motor vehicles be registered, the TAJ (Tax Administration Jamaica) estimates that 15 per cent of motor vehicles go unregistered each year, but this number is likely difficult to track because of the absence of an established empirical or other reliable source of calculating the number of vehicles that traverse our nation’s streets.”

Here is part of the problem with the data. In 2014, based on government data quoted in the JN analysis, around 547,000 motor vehicles were registered in Jamaica, a four per cent increase over the previous year.

The following year, registrations increased by nearly 30,000 vehicles, or over five per cent. The following year, the jump was six per cent, or by more than 32,000 vehicles to 609,000. Then, this happened: The reported number of registered vehicles slumped by 40 per cent, to under 367,000.

In all likelihood, that decline noted by the analysis represents something closer to the true figure of the number of fit-and-registered vehicles, arrived at after a smoothing of double-counting, which may have occurred because of overlaps between vehicles registered for one year and those registered for six months.

But whatever the reason for the overlap, the creation of sound public policy requires sound data. You need to know the number of vehicles in the country, and by how much that number is likely to rise, if you are going to plan roads on which they will travel.

So, too, you should have a good grasp of how many vehicles are insured. That shouldn’t be too difficult an exercise for an industry in whose interest it serves, especially if it wants to use the data to influence public policy.