Malta u Għawdex: problema komuni tat-trasport

Id-dibattitu dwar il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex għaddej.

Jekk tifli l-argumenti ta’ dawk li qed jesprimu ruħhom favur din il-mina taħt qiegħ il-baħar bejn Malta u Għawdex hemm raġuni waħda li tispikka: iridu jnaqqsu l-ħin li “jaħlu” jivvjaġġaw. Imma din il-problema, jiġifieri l-ħtieġa li nnaqqsu l-ħin li nivvjaġġaw hi problema tagħna lkoll, mhux tal-Għawdxin biss. Hi problema mifruxa prattikament ma Malta kollha. Imma ħadd mhu qiegħed jipproponi li nħaffru mina taħt il-Bajja ta’ Marsamxett biex innaqqsu l-ħin meta immorru minn Tas-Sliema għal Marsamxett. L-anqas mhi qed isir proposta ta’ mina taħt il-Port il-Kbir bejn il-Belt u Bormla avolja din kieku tnaqqas il-ħin biex nivvjaġġaw.

Is-soluzzjoni biex innaqqsu il-ħin tal-ivvjaġġar bejn Tas-Sliema u Marsamxett inkella biex naqsmu min-naħa għall-oħra tal-Port il-Kbir hi li nagħmlu użu aħjar tat-trasport bil-baħar u mhux mini taħt qiegħ il-baħar. Ir-riżultat hu aċċess f’iqsar ħin biex taqsam bejn naħa u oħra taż-żewġ portijiet. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, kuljum ikun hemm inqas karozzi fit-toroq tagħna. Dan esperiment li diġa qed jaħdem b’ċerta success: min-naħa għall-oħra ma jċaqalqux karozzi imma biss lin-nies.

Il-mobilità bejn Malta u Għawdex tista’ tkun faċilitatà bl-użu ta’ fast ferry service bejn Għawdex, Tas-Sliema u l-Belt Valletta. Ikun mezz li jindirizza l-problema reali: il-mobilità tan-nies.

Sfortunatament dawk li qed jikkampanjaw favur il-mina, immexxija kif inhuma mill-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdxija, iddeċidew li l-unika soluzzjoni biex tkun indirizzata in-nuqqas ta’ mobilità sostenibbli bejn Malta u Għawdex hi mina. Din hi fil-fatt l-agħar soluzzjoni għax tagħmel ħsara kbira u irriversibbli lill-Għawdex.

Il-problema f’dan kollu huma l-karozzi: jekk jirnexxielna inneħħuhom mill-konsiderazzjoni tagħna, naslu. Dan hu fil-fatt l-ikbar ostaklu biex naslu għal soluzzjoni sostenibbli għall-problemi ta’ mobilità li qed niffaċċjaw: mhux biss dawk ta’ Għawdex imma f’kull rokna tal-gżejjer Maltin.

Jiena emfasizzajt repetutament li is-soluzzjoni għall-probemi tagħna ta’mobilità qegħdin filli nirrispettaw u nimxu mal-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport 2025 li kien approvat għal Malta fl-2016. Is-silta segwenti li ħadt minn dan il-pjan tispjega b’mod ċar dak kollu li hemm ħażin fl-ippjanar tat-trasport f’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.” (paġna 88 tal-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Transport 2025)

Ħallejtha appost fl-oriġinal għax naħseb li tinftiehem mingħajr ħtieġa ta’ traduzzjoni. Fi ftit kliem din is-silta tgħidilna li ma nistgħux nibqgħu nippjanaw mil-lum għal għada. Hemm ħtieġa li nħarsu fit-tul. In-nuqqas li nagħmlu dan fisser li bqajna ma indirizzajniex id-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi. Għax is-soċjeta Maltija tibża’ mill-bidla: tippretendi li kulħadd jibdel id-drawwiet tiegħu biex hu (jew hi) jkun jista’ jibqa’ jsuq il-karozz!

Malta u Għawdex għandhom problema tat-transport komuni. Problema deskritta minn kelma waħda: karozza. Is-soluzzjoni għal din il-problema tirrikjedi alternattivi għall-karozza: il-mina mhiex waħda minn dawn is-soluzzjonijiet. Fil-mument li nkunu lesti li naqtgħu d-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozza il-problema tissolva b’faċilità.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 6 ta’ Jannar 2019

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Malta & Gozo share a transport problem

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

Traffic and the budget

traffic.Marsa

The Budget acknowledges that traffic is a problem; unfortunately it fails to present a vision for the future, as Transport Malta has yet to carry out a consultation exercise.

Acknowledging that Malta’s roads are bursting at the seams is one small step in the right direction. Simultaneously, however, the Budget goes in to propose various measures, amongst which a couple which will definitely increase traffic. Providing more parking spaces, widening roads and improving junctions through the provision of flyovers will improve traffic flow, but it will also increase vehicular traffic.

It is not rocket science to conclude that a long-term plan to reduce car ownership is the only way forward. Currently, with around 341,000 cars on our roads, car ownership in Malta stands at 802 per thousand population. In contrast, the figure for the UK is 516, for Italy 682 and for the USA 786. If Malta’s car ownership profile were to be reduced to a reasonable 500 cars per 1000 population, this would signify that there are currently 130,000 more cars on our roads than is reasonable.

Given the short travelling distances in Malta, public transport should normally be sufficient for most of our needs. Car ownership has increased exponentially over the years as public transport was found lacking – even for such short distances and it  got worse over time.

The recently published White Paper by the Education Ministry pointed out how schools are affected by traffic congestion. They are not, in fact, a  cause of traffic congestion; rather, they are one of its many victims. Introducing a coordinated scheme providing school transport to serve both private and public schools could reducing traffic during rush hours.

The same could be stated in regarding the accessibility of industrial estates. If these were suitably serviced by public transport routes, a substantial reduction in traffic generation could be achieved.

The budget also refers to alternative means of transport. Reinforcing sea links across Grand Harbour between Valletta and the Three Cities as well as across Marsamxett Bay between Sliema and Valletta, could also contribute substantially to a reduction of traffic movements. Various attempts have been made over the years to restore such links but they were not as successful as had been hoped due to the fares having generally been considered as being on the high side.

Reintroducing these maritime links across the harbours on a sound footing would provide a long-term alternative public transport service that would substantially reduce travel time for all its users. However, it would not be reasonable to expect this to be completely self-financed, at least not until such time as it has attracted custom and established itself as a reliable and efficient public transport service.

The budget also encourages the use of small-capacity motorcycles by reducing their annual road licence fee to €10. This reduction would certainly be an encouragement, even though it could very easily been removed completely!  However, as was pointed out – even in the budget speech itself – such a measure can only be effective if it is reinforced by an improvement in the  behaviour of  road-users as well as through better maintenance of our roads.

Improving the use of the existing road infrastructure would be effective as a short-term measure. The proposal to introduce the “tidal lane” in a number of ours roads would  certainly reduce congestion through facilitating traffic flow. It will not, however, reduce vehicle movements.

The EU -funded study entitled The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles Use in Malta carried out by the Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development at the University of Malta examined the economic impact of traffic in Malta. Such impact included not only time lost due to heavy traffic, but also excessive fuel consumed and the effect on health of the resulting air and noise pollution.  The estimated impact is substantial and add up to around four per cent of GDP. This would completely cancel out the projected 2016 increase of 3.6 per cent in Malta’s GDP.

The current extent of the traffic problem in Malta is due to the failure on the part of the state over a number of years. The mismanagement of public transport has created a vacuum, as a result of which cars have been permitted to take over our roads. Reversing the process is possible, but it will not be easy: it will require a coordinated approach and clear thinking. At the end of the day, all the measures taken must have one clear objective: replacing the private car as the preferred means of transport. It is the only way forward.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 18 October 2015