Transport policy: a hidden agenda?

Mishandling all matters relating to transport policy, the government is continuously sending conflicting signals, depending on who is listening at a particular moment. Way back in September 2017, Joseph Muscat made a policy declaration that his government would soon be taking steps to stop cars with internal combustion engines from entering the Maltese market. Price Waterhouse Cooper have apparently been commissioned to draw up a detailed study on the matter.

Given this clear signal, one would expect the logical conclusion: if we are to start the road map to eliminate cars with internal combustion engines from our roads, what need is there for additional fuel service stations? Logically, one would at the very least expect an immediate moratorium on the construction of new fuel stations.

Instead, we have the exact opposite. All of a sudden, we have unprecedented activity and development applications for more fuel stations then ever before. The applicants are undoubtedly aware of government’s objectives. So why would they risk a substantial capital outlay to develop a fuel station for which there would be little use if government’s declared objectives come to fruition?

The National Transport Master Plan 2025, drawn up for the present administration by the Italo-Hispanic consortium Ineco-Systematica and funded by the European Regional Development Fund, points out that transport planning and policy in Malta has been generally more short-term in nature. To be as clear as possible, the Master Plan continues by stating that: “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.”

To ensure that the message gets through, the Master Plan emphasises that “There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change but this is in contrast with the need for communal action 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.”

The Master Plan then details its road transport operational objectives, the first one of which is to provide alternatives to private vehicles in order to “encourage sustainable travel patterns and reduce private vehicular demand in the congested harbour area”.

Why has the Master Plan identified this specific objective? There is no room for ambiguity, as the answer is provided in the Master Plan itself – in black on white: “This objective has been developed since the data shows that about 50% of trips are under 15 minutes illustrating that mobility is produced at a local level on very short paths. This therefore creates the opportunity to increase the modal share for walking and cycling.” It could not be more clear than this. Short distances to practically anywhere is the basic building block of our transport policy, which we ignore at our peril.

Do we want to reduce congestion on our roads? The solution we have been advised to opt for is to reduce vehicular traffic, as most of it is not really needed due to the short distances actually travelled.

Instead of reducing the number of cars on our roads, our government opts for the exact opposite: the widening of roads and the development of flyovers and underpasses to increase the capacity of our roads and, as a result, make way for more and more cars.

What is the hidden agenda?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 31st March 2019

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