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BTA, Greenrock on minicar initiative

The Renault Twizy: rough idea of the mini-cars that could be up for rent by tourists (Stock image)

The introduction of minicars as a rental option for tourists, due for debate tomorrow in Parliament, is “strongly” supported by the Bermuda Tourism Authority.

The environmental group Greenrock gave guarded support for the legislation, although the organisation said the initiative should be confined to electric vehicles, and called for more public consultation to be undertaken.

Greenrock also said it was unclear whether an environmental impact assessment had been carried out.

The legislation got a poor reception earlier in the week, criticised as a surprise change that could prove detrimental to taxis.

However, in a statement issued this afternoon, the BTA said that while the structure and regulation of such a product merited “very careful scrutiny”, electric minicars stood to enhance the island as a destination.

The statement continues:

“Visitor research commissioned last year by the Ministry of Tourism and Transport showed 53 per cent of visitors were interested in renting an electric mini car in Bermuda. That’s significantly more than the 31 per cent who said they would be interested in renting a scooter. Bermuda is one of the only destinations in the world not offering some sort of car rental programme. Having this new capacity will improve Bermuda’s marketability and positively impact the tourism economy.

“More specifically, the BTA believes this new offering will make us more competitive as a destination, it will significantly enhance safety for visitors not entirely comfortable on a scooter, it will increase visitor spending and it will build entrepreneurial opportunities for our community. All of these benefits can be achieved without negatively impacting the taxi and minibus industries because the size of rental vehicle proposed means a user would be required to travel without luggage and with only up to two vehicle occupants, similar to a typical scooter.

“We appreciate that the public may have concerns over congestion, but with 3,500 fewer licensed vehicles on the road over the past seven to eight years perhaps we have more capacity than we think.

“Leisure air arrivals year-over-year continue to track on a positive trend line, up 9 per cent through May 31, 2016. If we are to continue building on this momentum of growth we must remain open to new products and experiences across our tourism industry. It’s what our visitors are telling us we need to do.”

Greenrock’s statement follows:

“Greenrock was surprised to learn about the proposal to introduce car rentals through the Motor Car Amendment (No. 2) Act 2016.

“We recognise that there are pros and cons to the introduction of rental cars in Bermuda, and feel it is important to give our initial thoughts on this matter from a sustainability perspective.”

• Focus on Public Transport

It is our belief that an efficient public transportatiob system should be the focus of transportation policy in Bermuda.

We believe this is the best approach for the island to:

1. Reduce the potential for traffic congestion overall;

2. Reduce the public health hazards associated with fossil-fuel based transport;

3. Reduce Bermuda’s greenhouse gas emissions relating to transportation;

We also note that Bermuda needs an updated National Transportation Management Plan.

It is our understanding that the last such plan dates from 2002. Such a plan should consider what the carrying capacity for vehicles in Bermuda is, as well as facilitate the transition to zero or low emission vehicles.

• Traffic Emissions

Traffic emissions are the most concerning source of air pollution in Bermuda.

If car rentals are to be introduced, they should be restricted to zero emission vehicles only, such as electric vehicles.

While electric vehicles still rely on energy production — such as fossil fuels from power plants — they greatly reduce the rate of air pollution and are a more efficient use of energy production.

While we understand it is the intent of this legislation to be restricted to electric vehicles, we do not believe this is made as explicit in the Act as it should be.

• Sustainability Impact Assessment

It is our belief also that all policies of the Government should be subject to Sustainability Impact Assessments — and where necessary, such as regards transport in this case, an Environmental Impact Assessment. It should be noted here that the 2006 Sustainable Development Action Plan (SDAP) explicitly called for all policies to be subject to Sustainability Impact Assessments.

It is not clear whether such an assessment has been undertaken with regard to this proposed policy — we believe this is a critical step that needs to be undertaken before proceeding with this legislation.

• Public Consultation

Finally, public consultation is important for identifying potential problems with proposed legislation and ensuring community/stakeholder buy-in. Institutionalising public consultation in the policy process and embedding good consultation practice is important to ensure an inclusive and sustainable Bermuda where decisions are fully informed.

In this regards, the public consultations surrounding Public Access To Information (Pati) and the more recent Personal Information Privacy Act (PIPA) set the standard that should be aspired to.

We would support legislation — such as this proposed amendment — being subject to a more proactive public consultation approach.