Our roads are bursting at the seams. We all agree that this is an accurate statement, but the problem is with identifying sustainable solutions addressing the issue.
Government has opted for the solution which focuses on an upgrading of the road network: widening roads, reorganising road intersections, constructing flyovers and underpasses. These solutions may reduce commuting time in the short term but they will, however, in the long term inevitably increase the number of cars on our roads, as a result making the situation even worse than it is now. This is a policy which sends one clear message: the private car is the transport policy makers’ preferred mode of transport.
This policy option is clearly unsustainable.
Malta’s transport policy makers have – time and again – failed to understand that the foundations of transport policy in Malta have to be based on the simple fact that everywhere is close by – a stone’s throw away. An efficient public transport system would solve most of our mobility needs. However, for public transport to feature more prominently in the manner we select our mobility requirements, subsidies are not enough.
After more than sixty years of neglect, the policy-makers need to take a clear stand to encourage alternatives to owning and driving a car. It is only then that public transport can take its rightful place as the leading – and preferred – provider of sustainable mobility in our islands. This could be supplemented with sea-transport, cycling and walking. As a result of fewer cars on our roads, both cycling and walking would undoubtedly become more attractive options.
From the reply to a Parliamentary Question answered earlier this month by Transport Minister Ian Borg, it results that, on the 30 April 2018 we had 377,305 vehicles on our roads. With a population estimated at 432,000 that translates to 832 vehicles per thousand people, one of the highest car ownership statistics in the world. This is not a sign of effluence but the most solid proof that the policy-makers have failed to come to grips with the real issues of sustainable mobility in a small country.
According to 2014 statistics available, Luxembourg had 661 vehicles per thousand population on its roads. This too is a very high car ownership rate, but applying it to Malta would signify that we could do with removing 75,000 cars from our roads: a 20 percent reduction. Luxembourg, having a population comparable to Malta, is also small in size as a country, with everywhere being easily within reach, even though it is approximately six times the size of Malta. Turkey, on the other hand, which is much larger in size and population when compared to Malta, has 134 cars per thousand people on its roads: a car ownership statistic which, if applied to Malta, would mean that we have an excess of 302,000 cars on our roads – 80 per cent. Rather than further developing our road network with fly-overs and under-passes we could then start planning for the transformation of most of our existing roads into recreational areas! This, of course, is wishful thinking.
However, these are the real issues that need debating. Unfortunately, there is no interest in considering the reduction of car ownership as a realistic policy solution which effectively addresses traffic congestion and consequently sustainable mobility.
Rather than a policy of upgrading our roads we need a policy of transition, that slowly nudges our behaviour from one as a result of which cars rule our roads to one where our mobility is addressed in a sustainable manner primarily through a substantially increased use of public transport. It will obviously take time to reverse a 60-year neglect – as a result of which the state in Malta abdicated its duty to offer guidance leading to the development of sustainable mobility solutions.
It is this state of affairs which earlier this week led Minister of Transport Ian Borg to launch a “Central Link project”. €55 million down the drain.
published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 27 May 2018