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Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

Caribbean Islands

Transportation, Communications, and Electricity

As a result of Trinidad and Tobago's rapid economic growth, the islands' physical infrastructure generally lagged behind other sectors of the economy, causing various bottlenecks or failures in the country's transportation, communications, and electrical systems. For example, Trinidad and Tobago's road system tended to be concentrated along the industrial ports of Trinidad's west coast. The country's road system was constrained by three corridors of mountains (see Geography, this ch.). Most major roads in Trinidad were north-south. In the late 1980s, only two large east- west roads were in place, making travel through the center of the country more difficult. On Tobago, one major loop road existed from Scarborough to Roxborough to Plymouth, with one major offshoot to the Crown Point Airport on the southwestern tip of the island. The two islands contained more than 8,000 kilometers of roads, of which roughly half were paved with locally produced asphalt. Approximately 4,000 kilometers of roads were not paved, of which three-quarters were with unimproved earth and one-quarter with improved earth. Poor road conditions in the country, especially during the rainy season, contributed to the islands' high accident rate. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the country averaged over 5,000 accidents annually, and 1984 marked the first time in more than 10 years that the rate had dropped. Similarly, narrow, winding streets and the extremely high number of automobiles made Port-of- Spain infamous for its traffic jams.

Unlike most developing countries where public transportation systems dominate, the private automobile was the most typical means of transportation in Trinidad and Tobago. There were some 180,000 registered automobiles on the islands in the late 1980s, and some 8,000 new automobiles were being sold annually. It was estimated that Trinidad and Tobago possessed one of the highest number of automobiles per capita in the Western Hemisphere, a result of the local assembly of over 15,000 automobiles annually, destined for the domestic market. In addition, cheap, subsidized gasoline made motoring relatively inexpensive for many Trinidadians. As noted, however, the country's infrastructure did not expand as fast as automobile sales, and inadequate parking facilities, poor road conditions, and old narrow bridges all contributed to general congestion and the high accident rate. There was a public bus service operated by the Public Transport Service Corporation, but mass transportation services were generally deficient. Nevertheless, bus services were expanding rapidly in the 1980s, and the number of passengers doubled in the first half of the decade. Route taxis or minibuses, visible throughout the Caribbean, were generally available. Since 1968 there has been no major railroad, but a small loop of railroad operated for agricultural purposes in San Fernando.

An essential part of the economy's oil- and gas-based development strategy was the transportation of those resources via pipelines. In the mid-1980s, Trinidad possessed over 1,000 kilometers of pipeline for crude oil and 19 kilometers of pipeline for refined petroleum products. There also existed more than 900 kilometers of gas pipelines, construction of which occurred in conjunction with the development of gas-based petrochemicals at the Point Lisas complex.

In the late 1980s, Trinidad and Tobago had a total of six airfields, five of which were usable and three of which had permanent surface runways. Piarco International Airport's 3,600- meter runway could accommodate the largest of commercial aircraft in the 1980s and was a busy airport because of the great number of North American and South American flights that connected via the airport. A new passenger terminal and a 2,700-meter runway were being built in the late 1980s at Crown Point Airport in an effort to upgrade that airport to international status. Trinidad and Tobago in the late 1980s maintained some fourteen major transportation aircraft. Several major West European, North American, and South American airlines operated regular flights to Trinidad, and many other carriers transited the island. Tobago was expected to be the site of more regular routes as the island's airport gained international status. Caricargo, a joint venture between the governments of Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, offered air freight services from Piarco International Airport.

There were seven major ports on Trinidad and one on Tobago. The central shipping location for the nation was Port-of-Spain. Port- of-Spain's modern facilities included advanced handling equipment, extensive warehousing, ancillary sheds, refrigeration areas, bunkering, and freshwater facilities. The port contained only eight berths in the late 1980s, however, and congestion was common because of the high number of ships bunkering in Port-of-Spain en route to North America or South America. Port development was an ongoing activity. Other major ports were specific-use facilities and included Point Lisas, Pointe--Pierre, Chaguaramas, Point Fortin, Brighton, Tembladora, and Scarborough. Point Lisas specialized in fertilizers, chemicals, petrochemicals, and sugar. Pointe--Pierre and Chaguaramas were ports of entry, and the latter also served as a timber and bauxite transshipment site. Point Fortin handled primarily oceangoing oil tankers, Brighton served the asphalt industry, and Tembladora was a privately owned port used as a transshipment point for Guyanese and Surinamese bauxite. Numerous shipping companies made port calls to the country, and Trinidad and Tobago was a member of the regional West Indies Shipping Corporation (WISCO--see Appendix C).

Trinidad and Tobago contained a rather sophisticated communications system. In the late 1980s, the two islands had 90,000 installed telephones, or about 7 phones per 100 people, a ratio higher than Jamaica's but much lower than the rate in the Bahamas or Barbados. Domestic telephone services were operated by the state-owned Telephone Company of Trinidad and Tobago. Periodic breaks in local telephone service were not uncommon. Trinidad and Tobago External Telecommunications Company (Textel), a joint venture between the government and the British firm Cable and Wireless, provided excellent international service, including direct dialing via tropospheric links and an Atlantic Ocean satellite station. Telegram and telex services were also offered through Textel.

The country's mass media included one television station servicing five channels, two major radio stations operating four channels, and numerous daily newspapers and weeklies. The government-run Trinidad and Tobago Television Company offered over seventy hours of weekly viewing, including many locally produced programs. Television was popular, and television sets were common, numbering over 300,000 in the late 1980s. The government's National Broadcasting Service was the most important station, operating on both 610 AM and 100 FM and reaching an estimated 650,000 listeners. Other major stations included Radio Trinidad, operated by a subsidiary of the British firm Rediffusion, and Radio 95 FM, both of which were broadcast over parts of the Windward Islands and Leeward Islands as well. Two smaller radio stations also broadcast. There were an estimated 350,000 radios in Trinidad and Tobago in the late 1980s.

The country's high literacy rate allowed the printed media to hold an important role in the dissemination of information. Trinidad and Tobago had the highest per capita consumption of newsprint in the Caribbean. The country's four major newspapers enjoyed a daily circulation of 240,000. The Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad and Tobago Express were responsible for two-thirds of that total. Established in 1917, the Trinidad Guardian was the oldest newspaper on the two islands and played an influential role throughout the twentieth century. Although officially independent, the newspaper was often branded as pro-colonial, "white," and status quo during the ascendancy of Eric Williams and the independence movement. The Trinidad and Tobago Express, established in 1967, came to usurp some of the readership of the Trinidad Guardian; in the late 1980s, each paper enjoyed a circulation of 80,000. The country's two afternoon newspapers were the Evening News and the Sun, each with a circulation of 40,000; they were owned by the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad and Tobago Express, respectively. Several weekly newspapers, such as the Bomb, circulated as well.

Trinidad and Tobago surpassed Britain in per capita consumption of total energy, and in 1985 its per capita installed capacity and consumption of electricity was the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean. As of 1986, installed capacity stood at 1.17 million kilowatts; 2.72 billion kilowatts were produced in that same year, or 2,260 kilowatts per capita. Virtually all electricity was powered via three stations on Trinidad. Over 70 percent of electricity was provided by natural gas turbines, and the remainder was powered by steam. Trinidad and Tobago was one of only three countries in the Western Hemisphere with no hydroelectricity or hydroelectric potential. The electric system was interconnected through power stations between Port-of-Spain and Penal by one 132- kilovolt and three 66-kilovolt transmission lines, as well as through a small central substation. A standby diesel plant was located on Tobago. Tobago was linked electrically to Trinidad by two forty-one-kilometer submarine cables of thirty-three kilowatts. In 1977 the system was expanded by the installation of an eighty- eight-megawatt power plant at the Point Lisas industrial park.

Access to electricity was very good and was estimated to be over 90 percent. Electricity was produced and distributed primarily by the government's Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC). The T&TEC operated at a financial loss because of the high operating expenses that resulted from the country's excess installed capacity. For example, in 1985 the country utilized only 42 percent of its installed capacity. Private companies produced less than 5 percent of total electricity generated in the 1980s. According to government data, industry consumed nearly one-half of all electricity, followed by home use with nearly 30 percent, commercial use with 10 percent, and the balance for street lighting and other purposes.

Data as of November 1987


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