The Malta-Gozo tunnel debate is now in full swing.
Going through the arguments of those expressing themselves in favour of the proposed tunnel between Malta and Gozo, one specific reason sticks out: the need to reduce travelling time.
May I point out that this problem – the need to reduce travelling time – is not peculiar to Gozitan commuters: it applies all over the Maltese Islands. Yet no one is proposing the drilling of a tunnel below Marsamxett Bay to reduce travelling time between Valletta and Sliema. Nor is a tunnel between Valletta/Floriana and Bormla on the books, even though this would reduce the travelling time between Valletta/Floriana and the Cottonera area.
The solution adopted to reduce travelling time across Marsamxett Bay and the Grand Harbour has been to tap sea transport and not the drilling of tunnels below the seabed! The end result is a faster access between Valletta and Sliema on the one hand and between Valletta and Cottonera on the other hand: and a number of cars off our roads, every day.
Facilitating the mobility between Malta and Gozo can easily be carried out by means of a fast ferry service between Gozo, Sliema and Valletta. It would be a ferry facilitating the movement of people and, as a result it will be addressing the real issue: the mobility of individuals.
Unfortunately, the Gozo tunnel lobby, led by the Gozo Business Chamber, has decided that the only solution to the lack of sustainable mobility between Gozo and Malta is a tunnel. It is, in fact, the worst possible solution because, in the process, it will ruin Gozo in an irreversible manner.
The real issue to be addressed is to remove cars from the equation. This is, in fact, the real obstacle to achieving a sustainable solution to our mobility issues, not just in respect of Gozo but also with reference to Malta.
I have emphasised time and again that adherence to the National Transport Master Plan 2025 approved for Malta in 2015 is the solution to most of our sustainable mobility issues. This extract from the Master Plan clearly explains all that is wrong with transport planning in Malta:
“Improve integrated and long-term strategic planning and design: This objective has been defined since historically, it can be seen from experience that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has generally been more short-term (4-5 years) in nature. The lack of importance given to long-term planning means that a long-term integrated plan based on solid analysis with clear objectives and targets is lacking. This has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint.
There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change but this is in contrast with the need for communal actions to address the traffic problems existing now and in the future. This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.” (page 88 of National Transport Master Plan 2025)
Malta and Gozo share the same transport problem. The problem is a three-letter word: car. The solution to our mobility problem requires alternatives to the use of the private car and the tunnel is not one of them. If we are ready to dump our dependency on cars, the rest is not difficult to achieve.
Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 6 January 2019