Within the context of the electoral campaign for the leadership of the Labour Party, Minister for Health Chris Fearne announced that, shortly, parking at the Mater Dei Hospital grounds will be free of charge.
At face value this is a reasonable proposal. However, when one tries to understand the implications of such a proposal it is obvious that this is easier said than done. The problem of lack of parking space is much more complex and it will not be unravelled by abolishing parking charges.
Users of Mater Dei Hospital parking are out-patients, those visiting bed-ridden patients, hospital staff and contractual workers carrying out duties within hospital grounds. All of them face a daily acute shortage of parking space, except, possibly, a small section of staff who have access to reserved parking on a 24/7 basis irrespective of the time they actually make use of it.
Mater Dei Hospital out-patients are among the most vulnerable of the Maltese population. So, it stands to reason that any measure aiming at facilitating their reasonable access to the services at Mater Dei Hospital would be most welcome. However, the availability of free-parking will not solve their parking problems. Rather, it will possibly make matters even worse than it is at present.
The parking problem at Mater Dei Hospital is the result of two separate and distinct factors. Firstly, it is the result of what is possibly an inefficient use of the available parking space within Mater Dei Hospital grounds. Secondly it is in itself a reflection of the large number of cars on our roads, which, as everyone knows, are bursting at the seams. This, as our Transport master plan points out is the result of an absence of long-term transport planning in the Maltese islands.
A more efficient use of the available parking space within the grounds of Mater Dei Hospital would undoubtedly contribute to reducing the parking problems faced by all users of the hospital, but it will most probably not solve it. At the end of the day the lack of parking space is a problem common to all sectors of Maltese society: it is an issue of over-dependence on the use of private cars with an ever-increasing number of cars competing for limited parking space.
It stands to reason that one cannot expect a number of out-patients to use alternative transport. Some already make use of public transport on a regular basis. Most would however need some form of help with their transport requirements which help is generally forthcoming from family and friends through the use of private cars.
The Hospital authorities need to draw up a Green Transport Plan covering the needs of the hospital’s stakeholders and the optimal use of the hospital facilities for this purpose. Green Transport Planning would analyse the requirements not just of the hospital’s patients and its staff: it would also project the requirements of those visiting patients.
At the end of the day the Green Transport Plan for Mater Dei Hospital would propose practical solutions in improving the hospital’s infrastructure as well as in optimising the use of its facilities. In this respect payment or non-payment for parking would be just a minor detail.
published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 5 January 2020