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

Advertisements

Transport planning : a long-term view required

new_road_traffictraffic congestion and GDP

 

The pre-budget document for 2016 published by the Finance Ministry projects a real GDP increase of 3.2 per cent the year 2016, yet at least half of this projected increase will be wiped out as a result of the impact of traffic congestion in the Maltese Islands.

In fact, earlier this year the University of Malta’s Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development published an EU funded study entitled The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles Use in Malta. This study estimated that 1.7 per cent of our GDP is wasted annually as a result of traffic congestion, a conclusion reached after taking into account both the fuel wasted as well as the time lost.

It is in this context that one has to consider the Education Ministry’s White Paper entitled School Opening Hours and Traffic Congestion, published earlier this week. Unfortunately, the Education Ministry had to fill the void created by the Transport Ministry.

Traffic congestion is not caused by school transport alone – this is just one of many causes. The solution advocated by the Transport Ministry over the years has been to focus on the effects rather than the causes, with the result of even more space being ceded to cars. It has opened up more roads, widened existing ones and introduced flyovers. These “solutions” have encouraged more cars so that our roads are now bursting at the seams, with 340,981 licensed vehicles on the road at the end of the second quarter of this year.

This translates into 802 cars per thousand population, and most probably is the highest vehicle ownership profile in the world. It is even higher than the vehicle ownership profile of the USA (786). Comparing it to other EU countries, the figure for Italy is 682, the UK 516, Spain 592 and Switzerland 573. Even Luxembourg – at  741 per thousand is lower than Malta.

Such a large number of cars is not an indication of affluence. It is rather a clear indication of the failure of the state of Malta to realise that the smallness of these islands was an untapped benefit in developing policies that ensure sustainable access.

It is clear that, over the years, the state of public transport has been the single biggest incentive to private car ownership and use. Cars have been allowed to fill the void and take over our streets.

The cumulative impacts of this take-over has been a reduced access to public spaces in our towns and villages, a general deterioration of air quality and the associated respiratory diseases and accelerated urban decay in such areas as Pietà, Ħamrun, Msida, Paola, Fgura and Marsa.

This present state of affairs is the result of a lack of long-term planning. Transport planners in Malta preferred the easy way out: the construction of new roads, tunnels and flyovers engulfing more land as well as the creation of more parking spaces. The resulting impact compounded the problem: In the 25 years since 1990, the number of vehicles on the Maltese Islands roads increased by a staggering 145 per cent.

The situation was made worse by the removal of a number of bus termini in a number of localities, the decisions to build a number of schools in the middle of nowhere and having industrial zones not serviced by public transport.

In addition, the lack of enforcement of speed limits for vehicles making use of our roads served to squeeze out bicycles and small motorcycles as alternative means of transport.

This is the situation which has to be addressed.

The long term solution is an efficient public transport system and a corresponding decrease in the number of vehicles on the road.

The White Paper published by the Education Ministry is one such exercise, intended to reduce the number of vehicles on the road as a result of ferrying school children to and from schools in their parents’ private cars.

Better organisation of school transport, as well as more incentives to encourage its use, is a definite step forward. In addition, the  Education Ministry could try to ensure that the catchment areas of its secondary schools are not spread over a very wide area as this is one other contributory factor that has not yet been identified as an additional culprit.

The debate, however, has to be much wider than schools, because, at the end of the day, our schools are just victims of the accumulated lack of transport planning.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 6th September 2015

It –trasport tal-iskejjel

School Opening Hours Consultation

Huwa tajjeb li l-Ministeru tal-Edukazzjoni ppubblika l-White Paper dwar it-trasport tal-iskejjel. Kieku ippubblika dan id-dokument bil-Malti kien ikun ferm aħjar milli ippubblikah bl-Ingliż bit-titlu ta’ School Opening Hours and Traffic Congestion.

Huwa fatt li fil-ġranet tal-vakanzi tal-iskejjel (kemm fis-sajf, kif ukoll fi żmien il-Milied u żmien l-Għid) ikun hemm ħinijiet kmieni fil-għodu u anke għall-ħabta tas-2pm meta t-traffiku jkun mexxej ferm iktar mill-bqija tas-sena.

Iżda jkun żball li naħsbu li l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku hi ikkawżata mill-iskejjel biss. L-iskejjel jagħtu l-kontribut tagħhom għall-problema, prinċipalment minħabba li l-hin li fih jibdew l-iskejjel huwa ukoll il-ħin li fih bosta jkun sejrin għax-xogħol fil-għodu. Il-problema hi ferm ikbar u għandha l-egħruq tagħha fin-nuqqas li jkollna transport pubbliku effiċjenti għal ħafna snin.

Il-White Paper tagħmel ħafna suġġerimenti validi.

Fiż-żoni madwar l-iskejjel tgħidilna l-White Paper, hemm ħtieġa li t-toroq li minnhom jgħaddu bil-mixi l-istudenti fi triqithom lejn l-iskola jkunu taħt superviżjoni (organisation of supervised walking routes in localities). Dan hu suġġeriment validu ħafna u jfisser emfasi ikbar fuq il-ħtieġa li innaqqsu l-perikli mit-toroq tagħna fil-lokalitajiet. Sal-lum (forsi) jkun hemm pulizija ħdejn l-iskola li jżomm il-karozzi milli joqorbu ż-żejjed lejn l-iskejjel. Din il-proposta li ż-żona protetta tinfirex lil hinn mill-iskola hi waħda tajba għax twassal il-protezzjoni mill-iskejjel saż-żoni residenzjali.

L-għadma iebsa li tindirizza l-White Paper hi l-ħtieġa li t-trasport tal-iskejjel jibda jitqies mhux iktar skola skola, iżda fuq livell nazzjonali b’mod li ma jiddistingwix bejn l-iskejjel tal-istat u dawk privati jew reliġjużi. Forsi wasal ukoll iż-żmien fejn l-istat jibda jħallas għat-transport tal-istudenti lejn l-iskejjel privati u religjużi.

B’mod żbaljat il-White Paper ma teżaminax ir-rwol li jista’ jkollhom il-Kunsilli Lokali f’dan l-eżerċizzju kollu. Il-Kunsilli Lokali huma f’posizzjoni unika li jagħtu kontribut effettiv għax qegħdin fil-lokalità, u hi sfortuna li l-Ministeru tal-Edukazzjoni dan jidher li għadu ma fehmux. L-organizzazzjoni tat-trasport tal-iskejjel għandu jsir flimkien mal-Kunsilli Lokali li individwalment jew fi gruppi (fil-każ ta’ Kunsilli Lokali żgħar) jistgħu jassiguraw ferm iktar minn kulħadd illi t-trasport tal-iskejjel ikun organizzat skond il-ħtiġijiet tal-istudenti u mhux skond il-kundizzjonijiet iddettati minn min jagħti s-servizz tat-trasport. F’dan il-kuntest il-White Paper fil-fatt titkellem dwar konflitt bejn service providers u service receivers: ġustament tgħid li l-ħinijiet tat-transport hu ħafna drabi ddettat fl-interess ta’ min jipprovdi s-servizz, mhux fl-interess tal-istudenti.

Organizzazzjoni aħjar tat-trasport tal-iskejjel taħt id-direzzjoni tal-Kunsilli Lokali għandha twassal għal titjib fil-kwalità tas-servizz tat-trasport. Dan jinkludi b’mod partikolari l-imġieba tax-xufiera u l-puntwalità tas-servizz.

Dawn il-fatturi kollha flimkien jistgħu jħajru iktar ġenituri jutilizzaw dan is-servizz flok ma jwasslu lill-uliedhom huma stess bil-karozzi privati tagħhom sal-iskola.

Il-ħinijiet tal-iskola m’għandhomx għalfejn jinbidlu. Imma f’dawk il-każijiet fejn l-istudenti jaslu kmieni l-iskola, flok ma jitħallew jiġru barra għandhom ikollhom il-possibiltà ta’ attività extra-kurrikulari, taħt superviżjoni fl-iskola.

B’dan il-mod l-iskejjel jistgħu inaqqsu t-traffiku li jiġġeneraw.