With an economy based on the extraction, production, and export of oil and gas, Trinbagonians (citizens of Trinidad and Tobago) have always benefited from subsidised fuel and gas prices. However, as the oil and natural gas reserves run low, the government of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) has had no choice but to increase fuel prices.
Premium gas now stands at $7.75 TTD or USD $1.14 per litre, whereas at the beginning of the year, the cost was $5.75 TTD or USD $0.85.
Supreme gas now costs $6.97 TTD or US $1.03 per litre where it cost $4.97 TTD or USD $0.73 at the start of the year.
And diesel fuel, once thought to be the cheapest, now costs $4.41 TTD or USD $ 0.65 per litre where at the beginning of 2022, it costs $3.41 TTD or USD $0.50.
The price of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) has not yet increased since its introduction into the country in 2014, where one litre costs $1.00 TTD or USD $0.15.
Increasing gas prices equal decreasing disposable income
Gas prices increased in T&T for a second time in 2022, leaving many unprepared for additional fuel expenses. A global petrol report shows that gas prices as of November 7th, 2022, are now $ 0.58 TTD or USD $0.086 higher than the cost of fuel in the USA, and approximately $2.20 TTD or USD $0.32 less than fuel prices in Jamaica, another Caribbean island.
25-year-old Mickel Thomas shared with Climate Tracker that he now spends $300 – 400 TTD or USD $45 – 60 per working-week to fill his tank of a Nissan Cefiro with premium fuel, whereas at the beginning of the year he would have spent $200 -300 TTD per week which translates to roughly $1000 TTD or USD $148 per working-month. His daily commute is one that is long, approximately 81.6 miles total each day from his residence in D’Abadie to his workplace in Toco. Income that is now put toward gas had been previously earmarked for groceries for his family. This triggered Thomas to consider other options to reduce fuel expenses and adapt to the changing times on the twin-island.
Finding and promoting alternatives
In 2011, the government proposed the use of CNG as a vehicular fuel in the budget, after which it was subtly introduced in 2014. The government also held a “CNG lottery” programme where they promoted the conversion of regular vehicles to CNG vehicles, by providing citizens with the chance to convert their vehicles free of cost.
55-year-old Leslie Ann Williams was among the lucky citizens, receiving a free kit for her T20 Nissan X Trail Classic. Williams spoke of her experience with CNG, stating that without it, she would be “like a fish out of water”- unable to use her vehicle frequently with the increased fuel prices.
Williams’ commute is from Arima to Petit Valley each day, approximately 47 miles total per day to and from her workplace. At the beginning of 2020, she would have spent $300TTD or USD $45 on gas each week, which translates to $1200 TTD or USD $177 per month. In 2022, she now spends $50 TTD or USD $7.39 per week which translates to $400 TTD or USD $60 per month. She pointed out that CNG does not work independently in converted vehicles. Users of CNG must have some level of petrol in the car even after its conversion.
“I put $100 TTD gas every two weeks and my normal gas system still works”, Williams commented.
Williams is a lucky person. Those who have yet to convert to CNG continue to pay the increased prices of fuel.
Communications Manager for the National Gas Company (NGC) Roger Sant has highlighted that a standard gasoline 4-cylinder Sedan kit cost approximately $13,000 TTD or USD $1,920. In cases like Williams, who would have received the kit for free, the cost would have been “marginally higher” had she decided to invest in the kit herself as she owned an SUV.
Williams also stated the CNG has not hindered the performance of her vehicle. She said that she is required to service once per year, a service that costs approximately $750 – $1000 TTD or USD $111 – $148.
Williams said that, “the CNG works fine in my car for the two years that I’ve had it. There’s a button that you press to turn on and off the CNG. I usually do this when I want my car to go faster as the CNG slows the car down a bit.”
A cheaper and cleaner natural gas alternative?
CNG is regarded internationally as a cleaner alternative to regular petrol, as the carbon monoxide emissions produced are reduced by 80%, while 44% fewer hydrocarbons are produced by the car itself. Fewer carbon emissions would equate to lower overall contributions to climate change by T&T.
Climate change, in recent years, has become even more apparent. GHG (Greenhouse Gases) emissions act as a blanket over the earth, causing changes in weather patterns, and resulting in more intense storms or droughts due to excess heat trapped in the atmosphere.
Caribbean countries like Trinidad and Tobago are more susceptible to these changes in climate as they face the brunt of hurricanes and changing weather patterns, and unlike more developed countries, they cannot afford to rebuild on their own.
Recently the Minister of Planning and Development, Pennelope Beckles, reminded the local media that Trinidad and Tobago has set ambitious goals for greenhouse gas emission in its transport sector, 30% reduction by 2030. By starting the CNG programme /CNG lottery, the government has indeed succeeded in making CNG a part of the conversation. However, now as the country faces economic challenges that have resulted in the removal of all subsidies on fuel, one can almost say “it’s a good thing they did that when they did it” according to Williams.
She recalls a recent experience where she noticed many cars she followed, branded by a CNG sticker on their rear, to indicate that the vehicle was CNG converted, and even noticed more CNG vehicles that do not contain a petrol gas system. “I know just about 5 people that got the free CNG conversion when I did and one that’s considering paying for it”, she commented.
NCG CNG Trinidad also estimated that the country has saved approximately 55,384 metric tonnes of carbon emissions since 2014, and currently 95% of the existing car stock in the country can be successfully converted to CNG.
Now citizens have the option to invest in the conversion and have their fuel expenses reduced along with the knowledge that they are contributing less to climate change.
This story was published with the support of Climate Tracker and The Cropper Foundation’s Caribbean Citizen Climate Journalism Fellowship