Beyond the trees

The public debate of the Central Link project is currently concentrated on the manner in which it will impact the tree population along its route. It is an important discussion because it is concentrating on one of the visible impacts of the project. The trees should definitely by protected and preferably increased in number.

However the number of trees impacted is just an (important) detail. There are other “important details” which need to be considered, amongst which the agricultural land to be taken up, the emissions – which need to be reduced, in particular the minute particulate matter- as well as noise pollution.

Little discussion has, however, ensued on the basic question: do we need the proposed improvement of the road network?

To answer this basic issue, we need to consider the different options available to facilitate sustainable mobility around our islands. These are options that are available to each and every one of us, but do we make use of them?

Why do we make use of private cars for very short distances? Are we aware of the fact that around 50 per cent of journeys in private cars on our roads are of under 15 minutes duration?

To answer the basic question we cannot just focus on traffic congestion. Traffic congestion is, in reality, the effect and not the cause of our transport problems: it means that our roads are bursting at the seams. We need to consider the issue in depth and in a holistic manner.

The National Transport Master Plan for the Maltese Islands does just that. When considering the proposals listed in the Master Plan, it is not a question of pick and choose: it is an integrated plan. Some of the proposals are easy to implement, others are tough as they strike at the real cause of our transport problems: our behaviour. Little effort is being expended in this direction.

The operational objectives for road transport in the Master Plan place great emphasis on the need to reduce the role of the car in the busy congested urban areas as well as on the provision of alternatives to private vehicular demand in these areas.

Unfortunately, instead of implementing these basic operational objectives Transport Malta is focusing on increasing the capacity of the road network in order to address traffic congestion. As a result, it is addressing the effects and ignoring the cause of the miserable state of our road network.

Government’s policy of massive investment in the road network, will, in the long term, be counter-productive as it will only serve to increase the number of vehicles on our roads and, consequently, cause more congestion.

Just throwing money at problems in the form of substantial subsidies of public transport is not as effective as we would like. The positive impacts of these and other subsidies are being cancelled out through the massive road network investment: a declaration that the private car is the preferred mode of transport of the policy maker.

As a result, the clear message of Malta’s transport policy is that public transport is only tolerated as life is only made easy for the users of private vehicles. It should, in fact, be the other way around.

The National Transport Master Plan clearly emphasises that 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.

It is about time that the government starts implementing its own Master Plan which so far it has consistently ignored.

published in The Independent on Sunday : 24 June 2018

Advertisements

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.
.
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

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