Wanted: a transport policy which makes sense

Everywhere is within reach in the Maltese islands: distances are relatively small. It is, in addition, an established fact, documented in the Transport Masterplan, that 50 per cent of private car trips on our roads take less than fifteen minutes. Do we need to be dependent on private cars for such short distances?

Over the years public transport was neglected. In the absence of suitable public transport, and as a reaction thereto, a pattern of car dependency has inevitably developed. The resulting congested roads are a symptom of this fact rather than being, as suggested in Parliament earlier this week by a government backbencher, the direct consequence of an increase in the country’s standard of living.

There have been improvements in public transport in the last years: these are however insufficient. Having free public transport is a good but pre-mature initiative as public transport has yet to be efficient and reliable. The decision announced last week by Transport Minister to invest in cycle lanes, is welcome, even if it comes a little late in the day.

The heavy investment in road infrastructure over the years has been misdirected as it has focused on the effects instead of on the causes of traffic congestion. The financial resources utilised in the Marsa Road network, the Central Link and elsewhere, will, at the end of the day, prove to be monies down the drain as traffic congestion will build up once more. This is already evident even in these early days. Others have been there before us as is revealed by countless studies carried out all over the world on the link between traffic congestion and improvement of the road infrastructure.

It is only through the provision of alternative means of sustainable mobility that the problematic behavioural pattern we have developed over the years can be addressed. Moving away from car dependency will however be a very slow process if policy makers keep continuously sending conflicting signals.

Making it easier for the car user through more or better roads is no help in solving the problem. It will make matters worse. Likewise, the subsidisation of petrol and diesel is sending a clear message to all that car dependency is not even considered to be a problem.

Three specific factors are currently in play: traffic congestion, fuel cost and the transition to transport electrification. If properly managed, together they can help us move towards a state of sustainable mobility. The transition period is however necessarily painful unless it is properly managed.

Postponement in tackling traffic congestion properly will only make matters worse.

Improvement of road infrastructure has postponed the issue of tackling traffic congestion into the future. Fuel subsidies have added to the problem as they blatantly ignore it. Electrification, unless coupled with a reduction of cars on the road will add acute electricity dependency on foreign sources to our current problems. Energy sovereignty has been problematic for quite some time: it will get worse.

The second electricity interconnector with the Sicilian mainland will worsen our car dependency as a result of linking it with a dependency on electricity generated outside our shores. We know quite well what that signifies whenever the interconnector is out of service, whatever the cause!

We need to go beyond the rhetoric and act before it is too late. It is also possible to ensure that the vulnerable are adequately protected. This would mean that instead of having across-the-board subsidises, these would be focused on those who really need them. All those who have mobility problems should receive focused assistance to help them overcome the difficulties which could result from a modal shift in transport. We cannot however go on with subsidies for all: it is not sustainable, neither economically, nor environmentally or socially

Land use planning can also be of considerable help if it is focused on the actual needs of the whole community instead of being at the service of the developers. We need to ensure that each community is self-sufficient in respect of its basic needs. This will, on its own, decrease traffic generated by the search for such needs.

The climate change debate is a unique opportunity to rethink the way we plan our cities as one way in which to combat the climate crisis. The idea crystallised as ‘the 15-minute city’ by Carlos Moreno, an architect advising the Paris mayor, entails turning current urban planning on its head to ensure that all our basic needs are available within easy reach, not more than 15 minutes away.

Carlos Moreno speaks of a social circularity for living in our urban spaces based on six essential functions: to live in good housing, to work close by, to reach supplies and services easily, to access education, healthcare and cultural entitlement locally by low-carbon means. Can we reassess the nature and quality of our urban lifestyles within these parameters?

All we do is essentially linked. At the end of the day traffic congestion and the related car dependency are a product of our mode of behaviour.  Thinking outside the box, we can tackle it successfully, as a result unchaining ourselves from our car dependency, consequently adjusting to a better sustainable lifestyle.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 20 November 2022

Malta: exporting abortion

The saga of the life-saving abortion required by American tourist Andrea Prudente has come to an end in Malta. Her case has now been exported to the Spanish island of Mallorca where hopefully it will be satisfactorily settled. The matter has been dealt with in a manner identical to the case of Maltese-Canadian Marion Mifsud Nora in 2014. Today’s case was exported by Malta to Mallorca while the 2014 case was exported to Paris. The support of their travel insurers to transfer them by air ambulance to foreign jurisdictions was in both cases crucial in overcoming the lack of the Maltese state in providing adequate medical care.

The Maltese state has failed Andrea Prudente. It had also failed Marion Mifsud Nora. Likewise, it fails to protect every Maltese woman faced with a life-threatening pregnancy. Maltese women in these circumstances unfortunately suffer in silence and rarely speak up. The Maltese state lacks empathy towards any woman facing a difficult pregnancy.

Apparently, the fundamentalists running Mater Dei have learnt nothing in the last eight years after they exported the Mifsud Nora case to Paris. This notwithstanding the opinion expressed publicly by a number of eminent jurists: that when a pregnancy endangers a woman’s life, its termination is already permissible at law. In such cases the termination of a pregnancy has even been described as being an act of self-defence, permissible at law.

Exporting these two abortion cases to mainland Europe adds to the abortion tourism which is known to exist between Malta and the European mainland, primarily with the UK and Italy, even though this is not limited to these two countries.

ADPD-The Green Party has been the only political party to continuously speak up about the matter. The silence of the others is deafening!

We need an urgent overhaul of the outdated abortion legislation on Malta’s statute books.

The least we can do is to ensure the urgent removal of any legal ambiguity currently shielding the fundamentalists running Mater Dei from intervening medically to terminate a non-viable pregnancy.

Members of the local medical profession are unfortunately in the same situation as their Irish counterparts who dealt with the 2012 case of Savita Halappanavar. They are afraid to act to protect the health of patients in these circumstances. In similar circumstances Savita Halappanavar died under the watchful eyes of the Irish medical profession who felt that they could not intervene due to the then legal prohibition of any form abortion in Ireland.

Ireland has in the meantime successfully learnt its lessons and immediately proceeded to dismantle its abortion prohibitions. This involved a national referendum which by over 66 per cent voted in favour of the proposal of a Christian Democrat led government (Fine Gael) to proceed with the introduction of abortion.

Ireland has learnt the hard way in order to proceed with ensuring that ethical pluralism in its midst is adequately respected.

The writing is on the wall.

While the other political parties have been generally silent, ADPD – The Green Party is one of two political parties in Malta to speak up. ADPD supports the decriminalisation of abortion and the introduction of abortion in limited circumstances, that is to say when the pregnant woman’s life is in manifest danger, in respect of a pregnancy which is the result of violence (rape and incest) and in respect of a non-viable pregnancy.

The export of abortion to other countries will not solve or address the deficiencies of Maltese abortion legislation which, enacted over 160 years ago, is long overdue for an overhaul to bring it in line with current medical practice and developments.

The Parliamentary parties are unfortunately not interested in all this. Their policies for the foreseeable future are still export oriented.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 26 June 2022

Riflessjoni, wara l-massakru ta’ Pariġi

eiffel peace symbol


It-total tal-vittmi qiegħed jiżdied. Fil-ħin li qed nikteb, in-numru ta’ mejtin huwa ta’ 129,  b’352 feruti, 99 minnhom gravi ħafna.

Dan hu t-tieni massakru f’ Pariġi: l-ieħor seħħ f’Jannar.

Sebgħa mit-terroristi nvoluti huma mejta, it-tmien wieħed kif ukoll numru ta’ persuni assoċjati magħhom huma preżentment imfittxija.

L-attakk ta’ nhar il-Ġimgħa kien wieħed simboliku: kien attakk fuq il-valuri li Franza u Pariġi jirrappreżentaw. L-attakk seħħ fl-istess żona li fiha hemm l-uffiċini ta’ Charlie Hebdo [il-mira tal-attakk l-ieħor f’Jannar] kif ukoll infirex fiż-żona li fiha jsiru id-dimostrazzjonijiet Pariġini.

Ilkoll kemm aħna ixxukkjati b’dak li ġara. Avolja minn dak li nisimgħu ilna nistennew dan it-tip ta’ inċident.

Franza iddikjarat stat ta’ emergenza. F’Malta ġie estiż is-sospensjoni tar-regoli tas-Schengen biex dan issa jibqa’ sejjer sa wara li jintemm is-Summit taċ-CHOGM.

L-attakk fuq il-moviment ħieles tal-persuni fiż-żona Schengen ilu li beda. Intensifika mal-mewġa kurrenti ta’ migrazzjoni mis-Sirja. Wara Pariġi bla dubju dan l-attakk ser ikompli jintensifika.

L-ikbar rebħa tat-terroriżmu jkun jekk jirnexxielu jnissel il-biża’ fit-tul. Biża’ li jekk isseħħ tkompli tnaqqar it-tolleranza u s-solidarjetà.

Bla dubju jeħtieġ li noqgħodu attenti, kemm aħna ċ-ċittadini, imma iktar minnha l-awtoritajiet. Huwa neċessarju imma li ma nħallux il-biża’ tirkibna għax bħala konsegwenza ningħalqu f’gaġġa.

Huwa żmien ta’ riflessjoni favur il-paċi u s-solidarjetà, il-messaġġ ta’ Jean Julie il-karikarturista li pinġa l-karikatura riprodotta hawn fuq.

Il-vjolenza ma tiġġielidiex bil-vjolenza iżda bid-disponibilità ta’ kull wieħed minnha favur il-paċi u bit-tixrid ta’ kultura ta’ solidarjetà. Dan mhux faċli meta qed ngħumu f’baħar ta’ indifferenza. Inċidenti bħal dan jixxokkjawna, imma forsi jġibu lil uħud f’sensihom u jgħinhom biex inaqqsu l-indifferenza għas-sofferenzi madwarna.

Eiffel lights the way

ippubblikat fuq iNews, it-Tnejn 16 ta’ Novembru 2015