Id-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi

Il-qoxra tal-pjan nazzjonali għat-trasport intitolat National Transport Master Plan 2025 fuq nett juri l-emblema tal-Fond Ewropew għall-Iżvilupp Reġjonali biex jurina li kien iffinanzjat minn fondi tal-Unjoni Ewropea. Dan il-pjan li hu ppubblikat minn Transport Malta kien iffinalizzat f’Ottubru 2016.

Iċ-Chairman (u CEO) ta’ Transport Malta, jgħidilna f’dikjarazzjoni stampata qabel il-pjan, li l-iskop tal-pjan hu biex itejjeb il-kwalitá tak-ħajja tagħna.

Wieħed mill-oġġettivi ta’ dan il-pjan li ftit nisimgħu dwaru huwa dak li jfittex li jipprovdi alternattivi għall-użu ta’ karozzi privati biex tkun inkoraġġita mobilitá sostenibbli u bħala riżultat tonqos id-domanda għall-karozzi fit-toroq tagħna.

Billi, kif anke jgħidilna l-pjan innifsu, madwar nofs il-vjaġġi bil-karozzi privati idumu inqas minn kwarta, nistgħu nikkonkludu li l-mobilitá meħtieġa hi waħda ta’ natura lokali u dan għal distanzi ferm qosra. Xi bżonn għandna ta’ karozzi privati għal dan? Il-mezzi ta’ transport alternattiv mhumiex biżżejjed għal dawn il-ħtiġijiet f’pajjiż fejn prattikament kullimkien hu tefa’ ta’ ġebla ‘l-bogħod?

Sirna dipendenti wisq fuq il-karozzi privati. Il-Malti, jgħidilna l-pjan nazzjonali għat-trasport fil-paġna 88, jippretendi li kulħadd jibdel id-drawwiet tiegħu biex hu jkun jista’ jibqa’ jsuq il-karozza!

Din hi l-problema rejali tat-toroq Maltin: l-imġieba u l-aspettattivi tagħna. Il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku hi fil-fatt il-konsegwenza ta’ din id-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi privati.

Sfortunatament il-proġetti massiċċi li jindirizzaw l-infrastruttura tat-toroq, kemm dawk li bdew kif ukoll dawk ippjanati, jinjoraw kompletament din id-dipendenza u minflok jiffukaw fuq il-ħtieġa immaġinarja ta’ żieda fil-kapaċitá tat-toroq. Mela l-politika dwar it-trasport tagħna, flok ma tindirizza dak li qed joħloq il-problemi tal-mobilitá, qed tiffoka fuq l-effetti bit-tama li tnaqqashom. Dan sakemm l-effetti jerġgħu jakkumlaw u mbagħad ikun ovvjament wasal iż-żmien għal iktar toroq u flyovers! Viżjoni mċajpra iktar minn din għad irrid nara!

L-istat Malti ftit qed jinvesti bejn jgħinna nikkuraw ruħna minn din id-dipendenza.

Dan l-investiment massiv fl-iżvilupp ta’ iktar toroq qiegħed jibgħat messaġġ wieħed, li jkolli ngħid qiegħed jinftiehem b’mod ċar ħafna: il-karozza privata hi l-mezz preferut tal-Gvern Malti għat-trasport. Dan hu l-iktar mod faċli kif tindirizza l-problema: għax bil-flus it-toroq mhux fil-baħar biss tbniehom. B’hekk ikun evitati d-diffikultaiet kbar biex ikunu indirizzati l-attitudnijiet u l-imġiba tagħna lkoll. Attitudnijiet u mġiba li huma r-reazzjoni tagħna, bħala komunitá, għan-nuqqas tal-istat Malti (fuq perjodu twil ta’ żmien) li jindirizza l-ħtiġijiet tagħna għal mobilitá sostenibbli.

Meta l-istat jibgħat messaġġ daqshekk ċar jkun qiegħed jinnewtralizza l-impatti posittivi kollha tal-ftit inizjattivi (b’finanzjament relattivament limitat) favur il-mobilitá sostenibbli. Dawn jinkludu, fost oħrajn, sussidji għat-trasport pubbliku, inċentivi biex jinxtraw ir-roti u sussidji biex jinħolqu l-faċilitajiet neċessarji għal xowers fuq il-post tax-xogħol bħala inkoraġġiment għal min irid imur ix-xogħol bir-rota.
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Madwar erba’ snin ilu, l-Istitut għall-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli u t-Tibdil fil-Klima tal-Universitá ta’ Malta kien ippubblika studju li kien ġie ffinanzjat mill-Unjoni Ewropea li kien intitolat The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles Use in Malta. Dak l-istudju kien ikkonkluda li l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku kien qed jiekol 1.7% minn dak kollu li jipproduċi l-pajjiż fis-sena.

Ma jkunx forsi aħjar kieku flok ma nibqgħu iffissati fuq in-numru u l-qisien tat-toroq inħarsu ftit fil-mera u nirrealizzaw li l-problema mhux it-toroq imma aħna u l-imġiba tagħna? Id-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi teħtieġ kura mingħajr iktar dewmien.

 

 

ippubblikat fuq Illum il-Ħadd – 3 ta’ Ġunju 2018

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Our car addiction

The front cover of Malta’s National Transport Master Plan 2025 boldly bears the logo of the European Regional Development Fund, indicating that it was funded by European Union funds.

This Master Plan, published by Transport Malta, was finalised in October 2016. The Transport Malta Chairman and CEO, in the statement preceding the actual text of the said Master Plan emphasises that it is fundamentally “about improving the quality of life of our citizens”.

One of the objectives of the Master Plan which we do not hear much about is the one that seeks to provide alternatives to private vehicles in order to encourage sustainable travel patterns and thus reduce private vehicular demand.

Given that, as pointed out by the Master Plan, 50 per cent of trips with private cars are of under 15 minutes duration, it follows that mobility is primarily local in nature and on very short routes. Do we need private cars for this? Are not alternative means of transport sufficient for this need (and more) in a country where practically everywhere is within a stone’s throw?

We have become too dependent on private cars. The Maltese traveller, we are informed by the Master Plan (page 88) expects that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.

This is the real problem with our roads: our behaviour and our expectations. Traffic congestion is, in fact, the result of this addiction to private vehicles. Unfortunately, the massive infrastructural road projects planned or in hand ignore this national addiction and instead focus on the perceived need of removing bottlenecks through an increased road capacity. Instead of transport policy being focused on the causes of our mobility problems, they are more focused on reducing the impacts of the effects. That is until such time that the effects increase once more – at which point it would be time for more roads and obviously more flyovers! A truly myopic vision.

Too little investment is made by the state on the need to cure us of our addiction.

This massive investment in road development sends one clear message: the private car is the Maltese government’s preferred mode of transport. This attitude is clearly the easy way out as it throws money at the problem of congested roads and avoids the very difficult task of addressing our attitudes and behaviour. Our attitudes and behaviour are an accumulated response of the country’s sustainable mobility requirements to the state’s neglect over a long time.

When the state sends out such a clear message it neutralises the positive impact of the few under-funded initiatives which promote sustainable mobility. These include, among others, public transport subsidies, incentives to purchase bicycles and subsidies for the creation of facilities such as showers at places of work encouraging cycling to work.

Some four years ago, the University of Malta’s Institute for Sustainable Development and Climate Change published an EU-funded study entitled The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles Use in Malta. The conclusions of that study had indicated that, every year, traffic congestion in Malta gobbles up 1.7 per cent of our GDP.

Isn’t it about time that we start tackling the issue seriously, which means focusing on our attitudes and behaviour instead of on the number and dimensions of our roads? Our addiction to cars needs a cure.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 3 June 2018

€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

The Environment Authority is becoming a sick joke

The current public debate about fuel stations is a wake-up call.

Earlier this week, the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) produced a (sick) joke of a proposal which could reduce the maximum permissible size of a “new fuel station” to 2000 square metres from the current 3000 square metres.

The joke becomes a fully-fledged farce when Environment Minister Josè Herrera declared that the 14 pending applications for fuel stations will not be subject to the amended policy.

The ERA should have objected to the Fuel Stations Policy in principle, and come up with a proposal for a no-nonsense moratorium as, at this point in time, we do not need any more fuel stations. We have had more than enough compromise with only one net result: the further accelerated rape of the environment in Malta. With its proposal, the ERA has joined the queue of boot-lickers justifying the unjustifiable.

If, at some point in time, flesh is put on the bare-bones of the government declared policy of doing away with cars running on an internal combustion engine, we will need even fewer fuel stations – and eventually we will not need even one. So why does the ERA not take the bull by the horns and confront head-on the never-ending compromise that always finds some form of excuse in order to justify the rape of our environment?

For some that may be wishful thinking but it is, however, the only way forward.

Once upon a time we had a National Sustainable Development Strategy. It was drafted after an extensive exercise in public consultation and carried out after considerable in-depth discussions between all the relevant stakeholders. The public sector and the private sector, as well as the voluntary sector, were all involved.

This strategy produced a blueprint for action which was, unfortunately, generally ignored.

Among the issues addressed in the National Sustainable Development Strategy was that of sustainable mobility: an integrated transport strategy encompassing sustainable mobility is required that takes into consideration efficiency in transporting people, the protection of the environment, the promotion of public health and safety, and social inclusion.

What does ‘sustainable mobility’ mean? Put simply, it is the model that enables movement with minimal territorial and environmental impact: planning our mobility requirements such that negative impacts are the least possible.

We need to address the causes of the current transport policy mess and not tinker with the effects. Rather then playing about with fly-overs and tunnels, the Ministry for Transport needs to address the issue of car-ownership: the cause of the mess. Instead of initiating measures to reduce the number of cars on Malta’s roads from the current staggering figure, Malta’s Ministry of Transport is determined to make it easier for cars to keep increasing their dominance of those roads.

The infrastructural projects to ease traffic congestion at Kappara and Marsa, or the proposed Santa Luċija tunnels, for example, will only serve to increase the capacity of our roads – which means more cars on our roads. Traffic congestion may be addressed in the short term by these infrastructural projects, but they will, however, also increase the traffic on our roads, until another flyover or another tunnel is deemed necessary!

This shifts the problem to the future, when it will be much worse and more difficult to address.

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.

Within this context the Fuel Stations Policy serves the purpose of ensuring the servicing of an ever-increasing number of cars on our roads. Who is benefitting from such a policy? If this madness is not stopped, there is no way we will – as a country – be in a position to implement the declared policy of reducing from our roads vehicles running on internal combustion engines.

As a result, we will not be honouring our commitment to decarbonise the economy.

The Planning Authority has lost sight of its mission statement long ago. Unfortunately, the Environment and Resources Authority has followed in its footsteps.

 

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 April 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

New Petrol Stations: immediate moratorium needed

For a short period of time, the number of new petrol stations in Malta was on the decline but recently this trend has reversed, undoubtedly as a result of the Planning Authority 2015 Fuel Service Station Policy.

New petrol stations are mushrooming all over the place, and not only is it easier to obtain a development permit to construct a petrol station but you get the added “concession” to ruin up to 3,000 square metres of surrounding land.

Those proposing the development of new petrol stations claim to be doing us a favour. They argue that the increasing number of cars on the road necessitates more and more petrol stations. The number of petrol stations in the Maltese islands currently stands at around 80 and new ones are mushrooming, undoubtedly fuelled by the 3,000 square metres permissible footprint in the 2015 planning policy.

It is submitted that the policy on the development of fuel stations should complement the policy on the phasing out of internal combustion engines and an immediate moratorium on the development of new petrol stations is essential.

During the 2017 General Election campaign, Alternattiva Demokratika proposed the phasing out of vehicles running on internal combustion engines in Malta over a 20-year period. This time-frame was deemed sufficient to develop an infrastructure for electric-driven cars. It was also deemed to be a reasonable time-frame to permit those who possessed vehicles running on internal combustion engines to adjust to a new reality without petrol or diesel.

This position was also taken up by the Labour government in Malta after the June election. However the details have not yet been determined.

Various other countries have decided on, or are considering, eliminating internal combustion engine driven vehicles from their roads, including Norway (by 2025), the Netherlands (by 2025), Germany (by 2030), France (by 2040), the United Kingdom (by 2040), India (by 2040) and China (by 2040). Others will soon inevitably follow.

In addition, car manufacturers are considering shifting to a manufacturing mode that will only produce hybrid or fully electric cars. Volvo will proceed on such a path by 2019 and no doubt others will follow fast on Volvo’s heels.

Within this context, does it make any sense to continue issuing development permits for more petrol stations?

We need an in-depth examination of transport related policies. It is clear to everyone  that our roads are bursting at the seams and that the further development of our road infrastructure is opening up our roads to more cars, as a consequence adding to our pollution problems and simultaneously making our accessibility worse.

An overhaul of Malta’s transport policies should seek to promote sustainable transport policies thereby reducing the number of cars on our roads.

Yesterday, I addressed a press conference on the site of the proposed extension to the road network at Attard. This project, when implemented, will take up valuable irrigated agricultural land. This is one more instance which will increase the number of cars on our roads, gobble up agricultural land and ruin the life of full time farmers.

Transport policy on these islands seems to be multi-directional, sending mixed signals in all directions. Some coherence is required. Establishing a moratorium on the construction of new petrol stations and establishing a date by which internal combustion engine driven vehicles are phased out from our roads would be a good first step. This should then be followed by ending the crazy spree of the development of new roads.

It is a process which will lead us to reclaim our roads for our own use, but then it will take some time.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3 December 2017

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

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AD tilqa’ b’sodisfazzjon il-konsultazzjoni dwar il-bidla tal-karozzi petrol u diesel għal dawk elettriċi

 

Alternattiva Demokratika tilqa’ b’sodisfazzjon l-aħbar tal-Prim Ministru li se jniedi konsultazzjoni dwar il-bidla minn vetturi li jużaw il-petrol u d-diesel – fabbrika tal-kanċer fil-qalba ta’ kull belt u raħal – għal vetturi elettriċi.

Il-kelliem ta’ AD Ralph Cassar qal:”Din il-bidla hija waħda mill-proposti konkreti li għamlet Alternattiva Demokratika fid-dokument tagħha Zero Carbon Malta 2050. Il-perjodu ta’ tranzizzjoni biex il-karozzi kollha ikunu elettriċi jiddependi minn ħafna fatturi fosthom kemm jeħtieġ żmien biex tinbidel l-infrastruttura li s’issa taqdi biss vetturi petrol u diesel għal infrastruttura li tinkludi skemi ta’ bdil, iċċarġjar u riċiklaġġ ta’ batteriji, kif ukoll perjodu biex karozzi eżistenti jinbidlu fi żmen raġjonevoli. Fuq medda qasira l-Gvern għandu jara li l-vetturi kollha tiegħu, dawk ta’ kumpaniji tal-kiri tal-karozzi u taxis jinbidlu għal dawk elettriċi. L-elettrifikazjoni tat-trasport pubbliku wkoll għandha tiġi ppjanata minnufih. Li huwa importanti li jkun hemm pjan b’miri ċari u tondi u li l-miri jinżammu.”

“Nemmnu li ma din l-inizjattiva importanti għandhom jittieħdu oħrajn b’mod immedjat biex tonqos il-konġestjoni fosthom li fi żmien qasir isiru sistemi nazzjonali ta’ passaġġi sura ta’ nies għar-roti u roti elettriċi tul il-bypasses kollha. Qed insejjħu biex ikun hemm inċentivi biex in-nies jitħajru jużaw ir-roti u roti elettriċi għall-commuting. Ma tagħmilx sens li jkun hemm ostakli bħal bżonn ta’ reġistrazzjoni ta’ roti elettriċi – l-użu tagħhom għandu jkun faċilitat u mhux imxekkel. Anzi għandu jkun hemm skemi li itaffu l-ispiża ta’ min jiddeċiedi li jixtri roti elettriċi. L-investiment f’infrastruttura għar-roti u roti elettriċi u inċentivi fiskali biex jingħataw spinta jqum ħafna inqas minn infieq f’flyovers u mini. Dawn il-proġetti u inċentivi jistgħu jsiru relattivament malajr. Skont figuri minn Londra l-introduzzjoni ta’ ‘bicycle superhighways’ żied l-użu tar-roti b’60%. Figuri oħra juru tnaqqis ta’ 35% fil-ħin tal-vjaġġ tal-vetturi meta tul toroq prinċipali ġew introdotti lanes separati u siguri għar-roti. Għal kull persuna li tuża r-rota ikollok anqas traffiku u anqas tniġġis fi żmien qasir.”

“L-elettrifikazzjoni tat-trasport għandha tkun marbuta wkoll ma’ investiment serju f’sorsi rinnovabbli tal-enerġija, mix-xemx, sal-mewġ, ir-riħ u sorsi oħra bħal gass naturali mill-irżieżet u d-drenaġġ. Il-mira ta’ 10% sas-sena 2020 hija ftit wisq. Malta għal darba għandha l-opportunita’ li tkun minn ta’ quddiem fil-bidla lejn ekonomija zero karbonju – ekonomija sostenibbli b’tipi ta’ xogħol f’livelli differenti għal kulħadd, u b’kwalita’ ta’ ħajja aħjar għalina lkoll.”

(din hi stqarrija għall is-stampa ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika)

 

 

Beyond roundabouts and flyovers

 

The need for adequate traffic management is apparently, at last, very high on the list of matters preoccupying the Maltese public. The solutions to the problems we face, however, depends on the behaviour of each and every one of us.

Traffic congestion is a constant irritation, as our roads are clogged for longer periods of time and in addition to wasting an ever-increasing amount of time in traffic, we are simultaneously constantly reducing the quality of the air we breathe.

Tackling traffic management adequately would hence address two fundamental issues: air quality and our clogged roads.

I do not dispute that improving the road network eases the flow of traffic. However, it has to be stressed that this is only a short-term measure. Adjusting the roundabout at Manwel Dimech Street in Qormi or the traffic lanes close to the airport or constructing flyovers at Kappara and Marsa will address and rationalise traffic movement now.

However, this further development of the road infrastructure is simply an encouragement for more cars to use our roads. It is only a matter of time when it will be the turn of the new developments to burst at the seams.

The present state of affairs is the direct result of the long-term neglect of transport policy. Public transport – as well as alternative means of transport – has been given the cold shoulder for far too long.

We require a transport policy that actively encourages the reduction of the number of vehicles on the road. Having around 800 cars on the road for every one thousand people in a small country is ridiculous. The small distances between localities in Malta and Gozo should make it much easier to encourage a reduction in dependence on the privately-owned car. Initiatives can be taken on a local level as well as between neighbouring localities. In such instances, it can be much easier to encourage the use of bicycles or the use of public transport or even to walk short distances: our health will surely benefit.

Isn’t it about time that we claim back ownership of our streets? We need more pedestrianised streets inaccessible to cars at any time of the day in every locality in Malta and Gozo. More streets need to be traffic-free, safe for children and parents to walk to school and back. We also need wider pavements for the use of pedestrians (not for tables and chairs to service catering establishments).

In the 2016 Budget speech, Finance Minister Edward Scicluna announced that, during 2017, government entities should be finalising sustainable transport plans. In the coming weeks these should be made public and, as a result, we expect that all government entities will commence addressing the mobility requirements of their employees and their customers. If carried out properly, this exercise could also impact on the private sector thereby (hopefully) substantially reducing a substantial number cars from our roads at peak times. In turn, this could have a considerable impact on public transport because with fewer cars on the roads, it should be more efficient.

Concurrently, government should also address the proposal to electrify the whole private transport sector through banning petrol and diesel cars from our roads, after a reasonable transition, and switching over to cars running on electricity. In Malta, this proposal was launched as part of Alternattiva Demokratika’s 2017 election manifesto. Since then, it has also been taken up by the French and UK governments. Removing petrol and diesel cars from our roads would substantially improve the quality of the air we breathe in all our localities and consequently in the long term will contribute to a considerable reduction of respiratory ailments.

This is the only way forward by which traffic is brought under serious control simultaneously ensuring sustainable mobility and improving the quality of our air.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 10 September 2017