12-il minuta pjaċir

F’waħda mill-ħrejjef minsuġa mill-konsulenti tal-Gvern, ġejna nfurmati li l-infieq massiċċ fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq ser iwassal biex ikollna 12-il minuta iktar fil-ġimgħa miżjuda mal-ħin liberu tagħna, ħin li illum hu mitluf.

Din iż-żieda fil-ħin liberu tagħna, qalulna, ser tkun possibli għax ser neħlu inqas fit-traffiku. Sa fejn naf jien, dak li ntqal eżatt f’din il-ħrafa għad mhuwiex ippubblikat. Nafu bl-eżistenza tagħha permezz ta’ waħda mill-attivitajiet pubbliċi tal-Onorevoli Ministru tat-Trasport Ian Borg!

Xi snin ilu, kien ippubblikat studju serju, intitolat The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles use in Malta. Dan kien ippubblikat mill-Istitut dwar il-Bidla fil-Klima u l-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli fl-Università ta’ Malta. F’dan l-istudju, iffinanzjat mill-Unjoni Ewropeja, kien ġie stmat li l-ħin li jintilef fil-konġestjoni tat-traffiku f’Malta minn kull persuna li ssuq jammonta għal madwar 52 siegħa fis-sena, u ċjoe madwar 60 minuta fil-ġimgħa. Billi dan l-istudju kien ippubblikat erba’ snin ilu, fl-2015, probabbilment li s-sitwazzjoni illum hi xi ftit agħar minn hekk ukoll. Imma anke minn din iċ-ċifra ta’ 60 minuta fil-ġimgħa, diġa jidher li l-konsulenti tal-Gvern għadhom ftit lura: għax għad baqa’ 80% tal-ħin mitluf fil-konġestjoni tat-traffiku li għadhom l-anqas biss xammewh.

Il-problema bażika li għandu l-Gvern bil-politika tat-trasport tiegħu hi li l-miżuri u l-inizjattivi li qed jieħu biex jindirizza l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku huma indirizzati lejn l-effetti li jirriżultaw mill-użu tat-toroq. Mhux qed ikun indirizzat b’mod adegwat dak li qed jikkawża din il-konġestjoni. Jekk inħarsu fit-tul, li jitwessgħu t-toroq, inkella li tkun żviluppata l-infrastruttura tat-toroq biex dawn jifilħu iktar karozzi qatt ma ser jagħti riżultati sodisfaċenti. Is-sitwazzjoni inevitabilment taqleb għall-agħar, għax nispiċċaw nipposponu l-problemi għal iktar tard, meta ibagħad ikunu ferm agħar.

Miżuri li jimmiraw għal riżultati immedjati biex tiżdied l-effiċjenza tat-toroq jistgħu jagħtu riżultati kemm-il darba jintrabtu ma miżuri bl-iskop li jnaqqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna.

Ikun floku li nħarsu mill-ġdid lejn l-Istrateġija Nazzjonali tat-Trasport li twassal sal-2025: din identifikat li madwar ħamsin fil-mija tal-vjaġġi b’karozzi privati jieħdu inqas minn kwarta. Dan ifisser li l-inizjattivi tal-politika tat-trasport għandhom ikunu iffukati lejn il-movimenti tat-traffiku lokali u reġjonali. Ħidma iffukata f’din id-direzzjoni, bla dubju, tagħti riżultati fi żmien raġjonevoli.

Il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku hi riżultat tad-dipendenza akuta tagħna lkoll fuq il-karozzi. Hija din id-dipendenza li għandha tkun indirizzata bla iktar dewmien. Sfortunatament hu propju dan li l-Gvern u l-agenziji tiegħu qed jagħmlu ħilithom kollha biex jevitaw illi jindirizzaw.

Biex inkun ġust fil-kritika tiegħi għandi ngħid ukoll li ġew introdotti diversi miżuri biex iħeġġu lil min jagħmel użu minn mezzi alternattivi ta’ transport. Dawn jinkludu aċċess bla ħlas għat-trasport pubbliku għal diversi kategoriji kif ukoll miżuri biex ikun inkuraġġit l-użu tar-rota. L-enfasi fuq l-użu tat-trasport bil-baħar fil-portijiet huwa ukoll ta’ benefiċċju u dan billi mhux biss hu mezz effiċjenti ta’ mobilità imma għandu l-kosegwenza diretta li jnaqqas il-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Miżuri biex ikun indirizzat it-trasport tal-iskejjel kienu ukoll inizjattiva oħra importanti. Fil-ħidma tal-gvern hemm nuqqas wieħed importanti li jagħmel id-differenza kollha: il-gvern għażel inċentivi biex iħajjar lil min jibdel l-iġieba tiegħu. Jonqos li jieħu miżuri fil-konfront ta’ dawk li jibqgħu jużaw il-karozzi privati meta hu għaqli li dan m’għandux isir. Dan qed isir għal raġuni ovvja: biex ikunu evitati konsegwenzi politiċi tal-miżuri iebsa li huma meħtiega.

Għandhom ikunu użati b’mod estensiv miżuri fiskali biex jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq kemm b’mod permanenti kif ukoll f’ħinijiet speċifiċi.

Fost il-miżuri li jistgħu jkunu użati hemm il-congestion charge li hi użata f’bosta pajjizi. Din tinvolvi ħlas skont kemm iddum f’zoni li jkun fihom ħafna traffiku, intenzjonata biex ħadd ma jdum iktar milli għandu bżonn f’dawn iż-żoni, kif ukoll biex min jista’ jevithom jagħmel hekk ukoll.

Sfortunatament, din il-congestion charge li xi snin ilu kienet applikata l-Belt Valletta ġiet limitata fil-mod kif kienet qed tiġi applikata b’mod li naqqset l-effettività tagħha. Jekk l-applikabilità ta’ din il-congestion charge tkun imsaħħa hu estiża lil hinn mill-Belt Valletta l-impatt tagħha biex tkun indirizzata l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku fiz-zoni urbani ewlenin f’kull ħin tal-ġurnata tista’ tkun waħda sostanzjali. Gradwalment miżura bħal din twassal għal tnaqqis permanenti ta’ karozzi mit-toroq tagħna flimkien ma żieda sostanzjali kemm fl-użu tat-trasport pubbliku kif ukoll fl-użu ta’ mezzi alternattivi ta’ mobilità sostenibbli.

Politika tat-trasport iffukata biex tindirizza bis-serjetà dak li qed jikkawża l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku, bla ebda dubju, tagħtina ferm iktar minn 12-il minuta żieda fil-ħin liberu tagħna. Dejjem, imma, jekk tindirizza l-kawża reali: id-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi. Sakemm dan iseħħ ser nibqgħu nisimgħu iktar ħrejjef minsuġa mill-konsulenti tal-Ministru Ian Borg.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : 21 t’April 2019

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12 minutes of fun

In one of the many fairy tales spun by government advisors, we have been informed that the heavy infrastructural investment in roads will result in all of us having the possibility of an additional 12 minutes of fun every week. This additional quality time, we are told, will result from spending less time in traffic congestion. As far as I am aware, the text of this fairy tale has not yet been published. So far, we have only been informed of its existence in one of the many media appearances of Transport Minister Ian Borg!

Some years back, a more serious study entitled The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles use in Malta, published by the Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development of the University of Malta and funded by the EU, had estimated that the time lost in traffic congestion per commuter in Malta was 52 hours per annum. This works out at approximately 60 minutes per week. Matters are today much worse, as this study was published four years ago in 2015 and the situation has deteriorated further. Apparently, advisors to Infrastructure Malta have not yet accounted for at least 80% of the time estimated to be lost in traffic congestion.

The basic problem with government’s current transport policy is that its measures and initiatives to address traffic congestion are focused on the effects of road usage. The causes of traffic congestion are generally addressed in an inadequate manner. In the long term, increasing road capacity will not give satisfactory results. It will only make matters worse, as a result postponing the problem until a later date when it will be substantially much worse.

Short term measures which increase the efficiency of our roads will only yield results if they are coupled with robust measures intended to reduce cars from our roads.

It is pertinent to point out once more that the National Transport Master Plan 2025 has identified that around 50% of private vehicle trips on Maltese roads involve journeys of a duration of less than 15 minutes. This signifies that local and/or regional traffic movements should be the real focus of transport policy initiatives. This is the low-lying fruit which could give results in a reasonable time, if tackled adequately.

Traffic congestion is the symptom of our malaise: car dependency. It is car dependency which should be addressed head on. This is the real issue which government and its agencies are doing their utmost to avoid.

To be fair various measures have been introduced which seek to encourage the use of alternative means of transport. These include free access to public transport to various categories and various measures to encourage bicycle use. Emphasis on the use of sea transport in the port areas is also beneficial as in addition to being an efficient means of mobility it also reduces cars from our roads. Addressing school transport was also an important initiative. Government has however opted to use mostly carrots and not sticks in implementing transport policy and initiatives. The reasons for this are obvious: to avoid political backlash as much as possible.

Fiscal measures should be used extensively to reduce cars from roads both permanently as well as during particular and specific times of the day.

Among the measures that can be utilised, congestion charges are the most used in other countries. This involves the payment of a charge depending on the duration of your stay in those zones subject to heavy traffic. Its aim is to reduce traffic in such zones.

Unfortunately, the congestion charge applied some years ago in Valletta was curtailed such that nowadays it is not very effective. If the congestion charge is strengthened and gradually extended beyond Valletta its impact could be substantial in addressing traffic congestion at all times of the day around the major urban areas. Gradually such a measure would lead to a permanent reduction of cars from our roads and a substantial increase in use of public transport as well as alternative means of sustainable mobility.

A focused transport policy which seriously tackles the causes of traffic congestion would yield much more than an additional 12 minutes of fun. It has however to deal with the real issue: car dependency. Until such time we will keep listening to the fairy tales spun by Minister Ian Borg’s consultants.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 21 April 2019

Free public transport

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is right when he emphasises the need to have free public transport. Public transport is much better today than when we were subject to the Arriva fiasco piloted by Austin Gatt and his sidekick Manwel Delia.

In the past, government had introduced free public transport which it made available to a limited number of categories, notably young people and pensioners. The number of people using of public transport has increased significantly from 39.9 million in 2015 to 53.4 million during 2018: a staggering increase of 33.8 per cent in four years.

The numbers are significant and hats off to Malta Public Transport. These numbers signify that we can have hundreds, possibly thousands, of cars off our roads thanks to these millions of commuters who have opted to use public transport. This is a basic fact that must feed the implementation of a Transport Policy.

The Transport Master Plan 2025, which runs for a ten-year period that began in 2016, identified the basic problem of Maltese Transport policy: we think in the short term. As a result, positive policy initiatives are not as effective as intended because they seek to resolve the problem being considered without considering its long-term impact. Four years is the maximum span of our vision, opines the Transport Master Plan 2025.

Consider, for example, the Prime Minister’s statement in favour of free public transport for everyone. How does this statement fit in with large-scale road infrastructure projects such as the Central Link project?

In my view, the two are contradictory. The Prime Minister’s statement signifies that more of us will be encouraged to take the plunge in favour of public transport, occasionally or on a regular basis. As a result, there is great potential for a further reduction in the number of cars on our roads. So what, may I ask, what is the purpose of the Central Link project in view of this laudable initiative? Is this not a textbook case of one branch of government not being aware of what is going on elsewhere, within government?

We are aware, courtesy of the Transport Master Plan 2025, that 50 per cent of journeys by private cars are of a short duration: less than 15 minutes. These would be short distances either within the same area or between neighbouring areas. Imagine transport policy effectively targeting these journeys through, for example, well-planned regional public transport, or frequent circular bus routes in the large localities. Isn’t the prize of being able to reduce traffic by a staggering 50 per cent worth the effort? We do not need fly-overs and massive investment in road infrastructure to achieve this target. Just some common sense and the ability to plan long-term is all that is needed. The alternative will further increase traffic, and, consequently, congestion on our roads.

The long-term aim of Maltese transport policy is spelled out in the Transport Master Plan 2025: it is a reduction in the number of cars from our roads. This will increase mobility through the use of sustainable alternatives such as public transport, cycling, walking and even sea transport between places in our harbour areas.

We may remember that a study carried out by the University of Malta in 2015 indicated that, on average, we spend 52 hours a year stuck in traffic. Congestion can be tackled without resorting to meddling with our road infrastructure.

Transport Minister Ian Borg needs to sort out his priorities as soon as possible. We are still awaiting his commitment to his own government’s Transport Master Plan!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 27 January 2019

Il-mina t’Għawdex: ħmar il-lejl

Il-Ministru Ian Borg, iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, infurmana li kien qed jaħdem biex iwettaq il-ħolma ta’ diversi Għawdxin billi jmexxi l-quddiem il-proċess tal-mina taħt qiegħ il-baħar bejn Malta u Għawdex. Wara dibattitu li ilu għaddej is-snin hu ċar li iktar milli jwettaq il-ħolm ikun aħjar jekk Ian Borg jipprepara ruħu għal ħmar il-lejl.

Saru studji ġejoloġiċi imma lanqas il-konklużjonijiet ġenerali dwarhom ma nafu. Għadhom mistura qieshom xi sigriet tal-istat. Tliet snin ilu l-ġejoloġista Peter Gatt kien ġibed l-attenzjoni għall-fatt li l-mina tal-Enemalta bejn il-power station tal-Marsa u Delimara kienet swiet id-doppju ta’ dak ippjanat u dan minħabba kollass tal-blat f’diversi punti matul il-mina nnifisha. Dan kien seħħ bħala riżultat tan-nuqqas ta’ informazzjoni ġejoloġika meta ġiet imfassla l-mina. Kieku dan kellu jseħħ waqt li jkun għaddej ix-xogħol fuq il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex hu inevitabbli li jkollna problemi kbar, inkluż possibilment numru ta’ mwiet.

Hu fatt magħruf li fil-Fliegu hemm diversi kisriet ġejoloġiċi (geological faults). Tajjeb li nirrealizzaw li tnejn mill-proposti għall-mina, li saru minn Mott MacDonald, il-konsulenti ta’ Transport Malta, jgħaddu minn dawn il-kisriet.

Li jkunu eżaminati l-kampjuni tal-blat f’laboratorju, anke jekk għal ftit ġimgħat, bla dubju jżid l-għarfien tal-ġejoloġija taż-żona imma dan mhux biżżejjed biex fuqu jittieħdu deċiżjonijiet dwar id-diżinn tal-proġett. Biżżejjed nifhmu li minkejja l-istudji ġejoloġiċi dettaljati fuq numru kbir ta’ snin, ix-xogħol fuq il-mina bejn l-Ingilterra u Franza, iċ-Channel Tunnel, kellu jieqaf u jkun devjat diversi drabi minħabba li t-tħaffir iltaqa’ ma problemi ġejoloġici li ma kien hemm l-ebda indikazzjoni tagħhom fl-istudji dettaljati!

L-istudji serji jieħdu ż-żmien biex isiru: ma jistgħux ikunu mgħaġġla minħabba data determinata minn agenda politika.

Tliet snin ilu, Transport Malta, flimkien mal-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdxija kkummissjonaw studju ekonomiku, ferm qabel ma biss bdew l-istudji ġejoloġiċi. L-istudju kien intitolat Establishing a Permanent Link between the Island of Gozo and Mainland Malta: An Economic Cost Benefit Analysis of Available Strategic Options, li kien sar minn E-Cubed Consultants. Dan l-istudju kien argumenta li t-traffiku bejn il-gżejjer kien ipproġettat li fuq perjodu ta’ 15il sena jiżdied minn medja ta’ 3000 moviment kuljum għal 9000 moviment kuljum. Argument li jmur kontra l-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport approvat fl-2015 ukoll.

Il-mina proposta teħtieġ ammont kritiku ta’ movimenti ta’ karozzi li jħallsu biex jgħaddu mill-mina u per konsegwenza minn fuqhom jinġabru l-ispejjes tal-mina kif ukoll il-profitti tal-operaturi. Fi ftit kliem il-mina, biex tirnexxi tiddependi minn moviment kbir ta’ karozzi kuljum. Dan imur kontra l-politika dwar it-trasport tal-lum, li ta’ l-inqas fuq il-karta, timmira għal tnaqqis ta’ karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Din hi materja li bla dubju għandha tkun eżaminat mill-istudju fuq l-impatti ambjentali (EIA) dwar il-mina proposta. Dan l-istudju għadu fl-istadji inizzjali tiegħu u dan wara li l-Awtorità dwar l-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi ftit ġimgħat ilu approvat dak li għandu jkun indirizzat (terms of reference) minn dan l-istudju. L-EIA hu stadju essenzjali li minnu jeħtieġ li jgħaddi l-proġett.

Għaldaqstant, kien irresponsabbli l-Ministru tat-Trasport, meta, iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, ħabbar li fi żmien sitt xhur kienet ħierġa sejħa internazzjonali għall-offerti għall-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex. Dan ifisser li dawn l-istudji huma irrelevanti? Fl-opinjoni tiegħi il-Ministru  qiegħed jagħti  dan il-messaġġ ċar u tond.

Din hi l-agħar forma ta’ governanza ħażina għax jimmina l-isforzi tal-awtoritajiet fil-qadi ta’ dmirijiethom. B’dan il-ħsieb jiena ktibt lill-Ombudsman u tlabtu jinvestiga dan in-nuqqas ta’ governanza tajba. Il-Gvern għandu jkollu l-paċenzja li jistenna sakemm ikunu konklużi l-istudji ambjentali qabel ma jieħu d-deċiżjonijiet.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 16 ta’ Diċembru 2018

Gozo tunnel nightmares

Minister Ian Borg informed us, earlier this week, that he seeks to turn into reality a Gozitan “long-held dream” by starting the process for a Malta-Gozo tunnel below the seabed. After debating the matter for years, it is clear that rather more than dreams, Ian Borg should prepare himself for a nightmare.

Geological studies have now been carried out and the results therof are being treated as some state secret. Three years ago, geologist Peter Gatt had drawn attention to the fact that the Enemalta tunnel between the Marsa power station and Delimara had a cost overrun of 100 per cent as a result of rock collapse along several points of the tunnel. This had occurred due to inadequate geological information fed into the design process. If the same were to happen during the Malta-Gozo tunnel works, a series of disasters, including possibly loss of life, would be inevitable.

It is a known fact that the Gozo channel is full of geological faults. It is pertinent to note that two of the tunnel options put forward by Transport Malta advisors Mott MacDonald pass through an active fault in the Gozo channel.

Taking borehole samples and examining them in a laboratory over a few weeks certainly increases our knowledge of the geology of the area but it is nowhere near the sufficient knowledge on the basis of which one can conclude the design parameters of the project. Suffice it to point out that notwithstanding the detailed geological studies spanning over many years and underpinning planning for the Channel Tunnel linking Folkestone in Kent and Coquelles near Calais, the drilling of the tunnel had to be deviated at certain points because of unpredicted geological formations.

Serious studies take years to conclude: they cannot be rushed to meet a deadline set by a political agenda.

Feasibility studies have been carried out some time ago, long before the geological studies were even taken in hand. Three years ago, the Gozo Business Chamber in conjunction with Transport Malta commissioned a study entitled Establishing a Permanent Link between the Island of Gozo and Mainland Malta: An Economic Cost Benefit Analysis of Available Strategic Options. In the study, which was carried out by E-Cubed Consultants, it was argued that the average annual daily traffic (AADT) between the islands is projected to increase from 3000 to 9000 vehicle movements over a 15-year period.

This feasibility study makes assumptions which run counter to the National Transport Master Plan objective of reducing cars from our roads.

Basically, the proposed tunnel requires a critical mass of vehicular movements which would be subject to the payment of a toll and hence contribute to the recovery of the capital outlay, maintenance costs and profits. This runs counter to current Maltese Transport policy, which (at least on paper) aims to reduce the use of private cars from our roads.

This is an issue which would undoubtedly be examined by the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the proposed Tunnel which study is currently in its initial stages after the Environment and Resources Authority recently approved the terms of reference of such a study. The EIA is an essential stage of the assessment of the project.

It was therefore irresponsible for the Minister of Transport, earlier this week, to announce that within six months an international call for tenders would be issued relative to the Malta-Gozo undersea Tunnel. Does this mean that the government considers the EIA irrelevant? This, in my opinion is the clear message being conveyed.

It is the worst form of bad governance as it undermines the efforts of the established authorities in carrying out their responsibilities. With this in mind, I have written to the Ombudsman and asked him to investigate this breach of good governance. Government should have the patience of awaiting the outcome of the EIA before taking any further decisions.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 16 December 2018

Ktibt lill-Ombudsman dwar il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex

 

Għadni kif, madwar siegħa ilu tajt ittra lill-Ombudsman biex jiftaħ investigazzjoni dwar il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex.

Il-bieraħ il-Ministru Ian Borg ħabbar li fi żmien sitt xhur oħra ser joħroġ it-tender dwar il-mina taħt qiegħ il-baħar bejn Malta u Għawdex. Dan għamlu minkejja li l-istudju dwar l-impatti ambjentali (EIA) li dwaru s’issa ġiet konkluża biss il-konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar it-Terms of Reference għadu bil-kemm beda.

Apparti li dan hu l-ikbar diżrispett lejn l-Awtorità tal-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi da parti tal-amministrazzjoni pubblika tal-pajjiż, din id-dikjarazzjoni tal-Onorevoli Ministru hi ukoll indikazzjoni ċara ta’ nuqqas ta’ governanza tajba u twassal il-messaġġ ċar li l-proċess ta’ studju tal-impatti ambjentali hu meqjus bħala wieħed irrelevanti u li qed isir għalxejn għax id-deċiżjonijiet lesti irrispettivament minn dak li jista’ jirriżulta mill-istudji.

Fil-dawl ta’ dan għan-nom ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika jiena dal-għodu tlabt lill-Ombudsman biex jinvestiga u jieħu dawk il-passi li jidhirlu meħtieġa.

Ma nistgħux nibqgħu sejrin hekk. Kif nippretendu lin-nies jagħtu kaz u jsegwu il-liġi, jekk il-Ministru b’imġiebtu jiġi jaqa’ u jqum?

€55 million down the drain

Our roads are bursting at the seams. We all agree that this is an accurate statement, but the problem is with identifying sustainable solutions addressing the issue.

Government has opted for the solution which focuses on an upgrading of the road network: widening roads, reorganising road intersections, constructing flyovers and underpasses. These solutions may reduce commuting time in the short term but they will, however, in the long term inevitably increase the number of cars on our roads, as a result making the situation even worse than it is now. This is a policy which sends one clear message: the private car is the transport policy makers’ preferred mode of transport.

This policy option is clearly unsustainable.

Malta’s transport policy makers have – time and again – failed to understand that the foundations of transport policy in Malta have to be based on the simple fact that everywhere is close by – a stone’s throw away. An efficient public transport system would solve most of our mobility needs. However, for public transport to feature more prominently in the manner we select our mobility requirements, subsidies are not enough.

After more than sixty years of neglect, the policy-makers need to take a clear stand to encourage alternatives to owning and driving a car. It is only then that public transport can take its rightful place as the leading – and preferred – provider of sustainable mobility in our islands. This could be supplemented with sea-transport, cycling and walking. As a result of fewer cars on our roads, both cycling and walking would undoubtedly become more attractive options.

From the reply to a Parliamentary Question answered earlier this month by Transport Minister Ian Borg, it results that, on the 30 April 2018 we had 377,305 vehicles on our roads. With a population estimated at 432,000 that translates to 832 vehicles per thousand people, one of the highest car ownership statistics in the world. This is not a sign of effluence but the most solid proof that the policy-makers have failed to come to grips with the real issues of sustainable mobility in a small country.

According to 2014 statistics available, Luxembourg had 661 vehicles per thousand population on its roads. This too is a very high car ownership rate, but applying it to Malta would signify that we could do with removing 75,000 cars from our roads: a 20 percent reduction. Luxembourg, having a population comparable to Malta, is also small in size as a country, with everywhere being easily within reach, even though it is approximately six times the size of Malta. Turkey, on the other hand, which is much larger in size and population when compared to Malta, has 134 cars per thousand people on its roads: a car ownership statistic which, if applied to Malta, would mean that we have an excess of 302,000 cars on our roads – 80 per cent. Rather than further developing our road network with fly-overs and under-passes we could then start planning for the transformation of most of our existing roads into recreational areas! This, of course, is wishful thinking.

However, these are the real issues that need debating. Unfortunately, there is no interest in considering the reduction of car ownership as a realistic policy solution which effectively addresses traffic congestion and consequently sustainable mobility.

Rather than a policy of upgrading our roads we need a policy of transition, that slowly nudges our behaviour from one as a result of which cars rule our roads to one where our mobility is addressed in a sustainable manner primarily through a substantially increased use of public transport. It will obviously take time to reverse a 60-year neglect – as a result of which the state in Malta abdicated its duty to offer guidance leading to the development of sustainable mobility solutions.

It is this state of affairs which earlier this week led Minister of Transport Ian Borg to launch a “Central Link project”. €55 million down the drain.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 27 May 2018

L-Ippjanar rasu l-isfel

Nhar l-Erbgħa, l-Kumitat Parlamentari dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar beda d-diskussjoni dwar jekk għandux ikun hemm tibdil fil-politika dwar il-pompi tal-petrol (u d-disil) (Fuel Service Stations Policy) tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Bla dubju kien xprunat mid-deċiżjonijiet riċenti tal-istess awtorità dwar pompi tal-petrol f’f’Burmarrad, Marsaskala u l-Magħtab. Hemm applikazzjonijiet pendenti għal pompi ġodda f’Ħ’Attard, l-Imqabba u l-Iklin fil-waqt li hemm madwar 60 pompa oħra qed jistennew il-permessi mill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar biex itejbu l-faċilitajiet inkluż protezzjoni ambjentali u dan minn total eżistenti ta’ 85 pompa.

Il-kummenti validi kienu bosta. Ikkonċentraw l-iktar fuq il-ħtieġa li l-pompi tal-petrol fiż-żona urbana jingħalqu u li dawn jiċċaqalqu xi mkien ieħor. Ftit iżda kien hemm ħeġġa biex tkun diskussa l-qalba tal-materja: xi bżonn għandna tal-pompi tal-petrol?

Madwar ħames xhur ilu, il-Prim Ministru, wara li għal darba oħra ħares ħarsa sewwa lejn il-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika tal-2017, ħabbar, li l-Gvern immexxi minnu kien ser jagħti bidu għal process ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika. Dan biex jistabilixxi data minn meta karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-disil ma jkunux jistgħu jinbiegħu iktar biex minflok ikollna karozzi li jaħdmu bl-elettriku. Ma smajna xejn iktar dwar dan ħlief artiklu miktub mill-Ministru tat-Trasport Ian Borg entużjażmat li fis-snin li ġejjin ser nimxu fuq il-passi ta’ pajjiżi Ewropej oħra.

Il-Prim Ministru, bir-raġun kollu emfasizza li din il-bidla fil-politika tal-Gvern kienet meħtieġa minħabba li l-emmissjonijiet tal-karozzi kienu l-ikbar sors ta’ tniġġiż tal-arja fil-pajjiż. Għalfejn dan id-dewmien kollu biex ikunu stabiliti u mħabbra d-dettalji ta’ din id-deċiżjoni tajba? Uħud mill-pajjiżi Ewropej ilhom żmien li għamlu dan. In-Norveġja u l-Olanda stabilew is-sena 2025, il-Ġermanja qed tikkonsidra s-sena 2030, fil-waqt li Franza u r-Renju Unit huma mħajra għas-sena 2040 biex iwaqqfu l-bejgħ ta’ karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-disil.

Id-diskussjoni dwar il-politika li tikkonċerna l-pompi tal-petrol/disil għandha issir f’kuntest wiesgħa tal-politika tat-trasport inkluż l-elettrifikazzjoni tal-mezzi privati tat-trasport.

Il-punt ewlieni tad-diskussjoni huwa li bħala riżultat tal-elettrifikazzjoni n-numru ta’ pompi tal-petrol/disel meħtieġa mhux ser jiżdied imma ser jonqos fuq medda ta’ snin u dan sakemm jasal għal xejn jew kważi xejn. Allura għalfejn nibnu u ninkoraġixxu l-bini ta’ iktar pompi tal-petrol/disil? Ikun ferm iktar għaqli kieku l-investiment nindirizzawh lejn is-soluzzjoni tal-problemi, mhux lejn it-tkattir tagħhom!

Il-pompi tal-petrol eżistenti fiż-żoni urbani qed jintużaw bħala skuża biex jippruvaw jiġġustifikaw it-tħarbit ta’ 3000 metru kwadru ta’ art. Fil-fatt dan hu l-iskop ewlieni tal-politika dwar il-pompi tal-fjuwil approvata fl-2015.

Ma jkunx aħjar li flok ma jingħalqu l-pompi tal-petrol fl-abitat ikunu konvertiti f’lok fejn tiċċarġja l-batteriji tal-karozzi? Dawn il-pompi qegħdin fil-parti l-kbira tagħhom f’żoni ċentrali u huma ġeneralment ta’ qies żgħir. Kull pompa tal-petrol urbana li tkun salvata u konvertita biex fiha niċċarġjaw il-batteriji tfisser ukoll li nkunu salvajna 3000 metru kwadru ta’ art minn spekulazzjoni. Fl-istess ħin inkunu qed nippovdu servizz li ser ikun essenzjali eżatt fejn hu meħtieġ.

Dan ikun użu tajjeb għall-investiment, aħjar milli jintuża f’bini ta’ pompi ġodda barra miż-żona ta’ l-iżvilupp. Jekk dan isir inkunu qed nittrasformaw problema eżistenti f’diversi lokalitajiet f’soluzzjoni addattata għall-bini tal-infrastruttura meħtieġa għall-eletrifikazzjoni tat-trasport privat f’Malta.

Dan ovvjament ifisser li nkunu qed naqilbu ta’ taħt fuq il-politika dwar il-pompi tal-fjuwil. Flok ma nużaw il-pompi urbani bħala skuża biex tkun ġustifikata l-ispekulazzjoni tal-art inkunu qed nagħtu spinta tajba lill-ħarsien ambjentali.

Hu eżattament dan li għandna bżonn f’dan il-mument: naqilbu l-ippjanar rasu l-isfel.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 4 ta’ Frar 2018

 

Turning the Fuel Service Stations Policy on its head

Last Wednesday, the Parliamentary Environment and Land Use Planning Committee discussed the possible revision of the Fuel Service Stations Policy. The three development permits issued in the past weeks by the Planning Authority for fuel service stations at Burmarrad, Marsaskala and Magħtab without doubt was the spark that motivated the discussion. Among the pending applications, Attard, Mqabba and Iklin are queuing for new service stations, while over 60 more, from a current total of 85 stations are awaiting the Planning Authority go-ahead for upgrading.

A number of valid observations were made. Most of the discussion dealt with the need to relocate service stations currently within urban areas but there was, however, a reluctance to address head-on the real issue: do we need fuel service stations?

Almost five months ago, the Prime Minister – taking a leaf from Alternattiva Demokratika’s 2017 election manifesto – announced that his government will be launching a public consultation to establish a cut-off date for the sale of diesel and petrol cars in Malta and the use of only electricity-driven vehicles instead. We have not heard much more about this proposal, apart for an article by Transport Minister Ian Borg who wrote about following in the footsteps of other European countries in “phasing out new petrol and diesel vehicles in the next few decades”.

The Prime Minister has rightly emphasised that this change in policy is required in view of the fact that vehicle emissions are the largest source of pollution in Malta, but why wait so long to put flesh on the bare bones of the declared policy? Other European countries have already determined their cut-off date. Norway and the Netherlands are considering the year 2025, Germany is considering 2030, while France and the United Kingdom are opting for the year 2040 by which to halt the sale of diesel and petrol vehicles.

Revisiting the Fuel Service Stations Policy should not be discussed in a vacuum. It has to be placed in the context of related transport policies and in particular the fact (hopefully) that Malta should now be going electric.

The main issue clearly is that, as a result of going electric, the number of fuel service stations required will at some point in the future – hopefully the not so very distant future – will be next to nil. So why build more of them? Why encourage investment in something that is not needed? It would be much better to channel investment into resolving problems instead of adding to them.

The relocation of urban area fuel service stations – the main thrust of the Fuel Service Stations Policy approved in 2015 – is being used to justify the uptake of 3,000 square metres of land. But instead of relocating the existing service stations in urban areas, would it not be much better if these were converted into charging stations? These service stations are centrally located and mostly of a relatively small size. Every conversion one into a charging station would potentially save 3000 square metres of land in the middle of nowhere and simultaneously provide the service of electrically charging vehicles right where that service is required: in our urban areas.

It is towards the conversion of these fuel stations that investment should be channelled. They can be transformed from being a problem in our residential communities to being an integral and focal part of the strategy to develop a suitable, reliable and – above all – sustainable infrastructure so necessary for the electrification of private transport.

This would obviously turn the Fuel Service Stations policy upside down. Instead of using urban service stations as an excuse to trigger more land speculation, it is about time to inject some environmental considerations right where they are most needed.

This is what we need right now: the turning of the Fuel Service Stations Policy on its head.

 

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 4 February 2018

A financial surplus, yet an environmental deficit

As was expected, last Monday’s budget speech solemnly announced a budget surplus for the first time in many years. However, the environmental deficit was, as usual, hidden between the lines.

The budget is aptly titled Preparing for the Future (Inlestu għall-Futur). In dealing with environmental issues, the budget speech does not lay down clearly the path the government will be following. At times, it postpones matters – proposing studies and consultations on subjects that have been in the public domain for ages.

On the subject of vacant properties, the government prefers the carrot to the stick. In order to get dilapidated and empty properties in village centres back on the rental market, it is offering a €25,000 grant to renovate such properties, but then rightly insists that, once renovated these should be made available for social housing for a minimum of 10 years. In previous budgets, various other fiscal incentives have been offered to encourage such properties being placed back on the market.

After offering so many carrots, it would also make sense to use the stick by way of taxing vacant properties in situations where the owner is continuously ignoring the signals sent regarding the social, economic and environmental impacts of empty properties.

The budget speech announced improvements to rental subsidies. However, it then opted to postpone the regulation of the rental market. It announced a White Paper on the subject which, when published, will propose ways of regulating the market without in any way regulating the subject of rents. In view of the currently abnormal situation of sky-high rents, this is sheer madness.

It is fine to ensure that the duties and responsibilities of landlords and tenants are clearly spelt out. Does anyone argue with that in 2017? It should have been done years ago. Instead of a White Paper a Legal Notice defining clear-cut duties and responsibilities would suffice: there is no need to wait.

It is, however, too much to bear when a “social democrat” Finance Minister declares  that he will not even consider rent control. There are ways and means of ensuring that the market acts fairly. Other countries have done it and are still doing it, as rental greed has no preferred nationality. Ignoring this possibility is not a good omen. The market should not be glorified by the Finance Minister; it should be tamed rather than further encouraged to keep running wild with the resulting social havoc it has created.

This brings us to transport and roads. The Finance Minister sends a clear message when he stated (on page 44 of the budget speech) that no one should be under the illusion that upgrading the road infrastructure will, on its own, resolve the traffic (congestion) problem. Edward Scicluna hints on the following page of his speech that he is not too happy with the current situation. He laments that the more developed countries encourage active mobility through walking, cycling and the use of motorbikes, as well as various means of public transport, simultaneously discouraging the use of the private car. However, he does not then proceed to the logical conclusion of his statement: scrapping large-scale road infrastructural projects such as the proposed Marsa flyover or the proposed tunnels below the Santa Luċija roundabout announced recently by Minister Ian Borg.

These projects, like the Kappara flyover currently in its final stages, will only serve to increase the capacity of our roads. And this means only one thing: more cars on our roads. It is certified madness.

While the Government’s policy of increasing the capacity of existing roads through the construction of flyovers and tunnels will address congestion in the short term, it will lead to increased traffic on our roads. This moves the problem to the future, when it will be worse and more difficult to tackle. The government is acting like an overweight individual who ‘solves’ the problem of his expanding wasteline by changing his wardrobe instead of going on a painful but necessary diet.

This cancels out the positive impact of other policies announced in the budget speech such as free public transport to young people aged between 16 and 20, free (collective) transport to all schools, incentives for car-pooling, grants encouraging the purchase of bicycles, pedelec bicycles and scooters, reduction in the VAT charged when hiring bicycles as well as the introduction of bicycle lanes, as well as encouraging the purchase of electric or hybrid vehicles.

All this contributes to the current environmental deficit. And I have not even mentioned issues of land use planning once.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 15 October 2017