Friday, March 29, 2019
Representatives from Taiwan’s International Cooperation and Development Fund. Representatives from different countries from around the world, colleagues, friends.
First, on behalf of a grateful nation, Belize, let me express our gratitude and assurance of continued friendship and cooperation. Our country has benefited tremendously from its long relationship with Taiwan, in many sectors including technology, infrastructure, education, agriculture and health. This workshop on Smart Transportation Development is just another symbol of that relationship.
I was asked to present an overview of Smart Transportation in Belize, not an easy task, but let me start by saying that perhaps the closest we have gotten as a nation to anything resembling Smart Transportation is a project, funded and spearheaded by Taiwan, which seeks to network our transport monitoring systems countrywide—meaning that all transport departments will be linked. I can’t begin to tell you how critical this one small step toward Smart Transportation will be.
To give you an idea of what I mean, let me say that Belize is small—68 miles at its widest point and 170 miles long from its furthest point north to its furthest point South. Our population is relatively small—about 370,000 persons. YET, currently a person in one district can commit a traffic offense in one district, and another transport department in another district 50 miles down the road would know nothing about it. So linking all departments would mean that any officer in any district would be given countrywide access to records of any individual in the system, absolutely critical.
I wish that today I could stand here and provide a glowing overview. I wish I could tell you that our transportation systems are stellar, and that our network is second to none. But that would not be true. Smart Transportation refers to the use of modern technologies and management strategies to provide innovative services relating to different modes of transport and traffic management and enable users to be better informed and make safer and ‘smarter’ use of transport networks.
I can say with all sincerity that we are quite some time away from a point where as a nation Belize can boast the successful and effective use of Smart Transportation. And that is why I will pay keen attention at this workshop.
Perhaps one of the most critical components of our transportation sector is public transportation. Currently there are an undetermined number of bus operators who operate buses which carry commuters between the six districts of the country, broken up into seven towns and two cities. Each of these towns and cities operates a main terminal where passengers wait for buses. There is no ticketing system, and at peak hours there is no less than a very dangerous stampede to get on these buses. That is one major challenge, and another is that 90% of the buses being operated are decades in age, purchased second hand by bus operators. If there is one area which desperately needs attention in Belize, it is public transportation.
Where the monitoring and management of traffic on our roads and in our cities and towns are concerned, there are also many challenges. Each district and town has a traffic or transport department, and the national department of transport is responsible for monitoring the highways and arteries that link them. But resources are scarce…both vehicular, manpower and technology. For years we have watched Police shows where authorities would pull someone over and radio in their license plates, and in seconds they know everything about that person. That sort of technology may be ancient in developed countries, but in Belize we haven’t even gotten there yet. Again, the move made by Taiwan very recently to assist with linking our transport departments countrywide will be a huge step in providing the first critical infrastructure to the implementation of real Smart Technology.
There are other challenges we face. Several of our municipalities have put traffic lights in place, but not anywhere near at the level that we need. Across the entire country, there are perhaps six sets of traffic lights in place.
I could go on and on, because this is really a critical area, and one that demands urgent attention. But I will stop here to present some statistics I have been able to compile which will provide a better idea of our traffic and transport situation—including amount of vehicles on the road and traffic accidents. Road traffic fatalities have become one of the leading causes of death in Belize.
So, my friends, I can tell you that this workshop could not be more important, and could not have come at a better time for Belize. I can also tell you that I intend to pay the keenest attention, because anything we learn here will benefit the eventual implementation of Smart Technology in Belize.
I Thank You, our friends from the ICDF, for this opportunity, and for the hand of friendship and assistance you extend not only to Belize but so many countries who desperately need such help.