Beyond the trees

Trees are in the news, mostly for the wrong reasons. Some of them are being chopped, others are being uprooted and transplanted from areas impacted by road infrastructure projects to elsewhere, generally close by.

At this stage of these projects’ development, their impact on trees along our roads are the most visible outcome. There are various other outcomes that will only become clear in due course.

The symbolic value of trees is powerful. They are the most obvious choice for environmental activists when these need a medium to convey clearly understood messages about what is happening to our environment.

While their symbolic value is spearheading the criticism directed at the road development programme, trees have also inherent value as part of an eco-system that is continuously under siege.

The road development projects currently under way symbolise what is wrong with our planners – they work against nature, continuously failing to factor eco-sensitivity into their plans.

The issue at hand is clearly traffic congestion and the current exercise regarding infrastructure is trying to address this to facilitate mobility. However, in addressing traffic congestion, the main problem is that the authorities are approaching the issue in the wrong manner.

Their approach is based in the short-term and, consequently, the problem is never solved. It is merely postponed to some later date to be picked up again years down the line by future generations. This has been shown to be the case time and again everywhere, and clearly crops up in all major studies on transport planning and management.

Ian Borg, the Minister of Transport, is not the cause of traffic congestion. He has inherited it from his predecessors who failed to act properly on their watch.

Unfortunately, he is following in their footsteps. Borg too will pass the buck to his successor – more roads, more traffic, more bottlenecks, more traffic congestion.

Borg is ignoring the advice that is clearly spelt out in the Transport Master Plan 2015, which clearly identifies car use and ownership as the perennially unaddressed issue.

It would be pertinent to point out the following extract from section 2.2.1 of the Transport Master Plan, saying that: “historically, it can be seen from experience that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has generally been more short-term (4-5 years) in nature. The lack of importance given to long-term planning means that a long-term integrated plan based on solid analysis with clear objectives and targets is lacking.”

The section goes on to say: “This has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint. There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change but this is in contrast with the need for communal action to address the traffic problems existing now and in the future. This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.”

The real issue is that our society is car dependent. This is reflected not only in all we do but also in the manner we go about doing it.

Unfortunately, governments are only interested in short-term solutions as they will generally not be around for much longer than that. So, they do not bother with implementing a long-term vision.

We need to change tack and focus our energy on the long-term solutions. It this case, it means that we can only solve traffic congestion by shifting from a focus on road capacity to one addressing car dependency. This signifies that we no longer merely act on the effects but that, instead, we start focusing on the real cause of our problem: changing our behaviour by reducing our car dependency.

I agree that this is easier said than done. But it is also fair and realistic to state that further procrastination will only add to our problems. The present state of affairs is precisely the direct consequence of a failure to act over a number of years, spurred by a policy and planning failure that has consistently opted for the short-term stop-gap solutions instead of the long-term ones.

 

Published in The Times of Malta: 9 August 2019 

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Il-proġett Central Link: riżultat ta’ inkompetenza

Ilkoll naqblu li l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku fit-toroq tagħna hi problema kbira.

Imma hi sfortuna kbira li dawk responsabbli biex jimplimentaw il-politika dwar it-trasport qieshom mhumiex konxji li meta qed japprovaw il-proġett Central Link qed jinjoraw il-kawża tal-problema u minflok qed jikkonċentraw fuq l-effetti. Il-konġestjoni tat-toroq tagħna mhix ikkawżata mit-tul jew mill-wisa’ tat-toroq imma min-numru ta’ karozzi li jagħmlu użu minnhom.

It-toroq tagħna ma jesgħux iktar karozzi li żdiedu b’mod sproporzjonat għad-daqs u l-ħtiġijiet ta’ dawn il-gżejjer.

Id-dibattitu fuq il-proġett Central Link iffoka fuq ħafna materji importanti: l-kwalità tal-arja, l-ħarsien tal-agrikultura, l-ħarsien tas-siġar, l-passaġġi riżervati għar-roti, imma li lkoll kemm huma għandhom importanza marġinali għas-soluzzjoni tal-problema reali tal-konġestjoni tat-traffiku. Il-kawża tal-problema mhix id-daqs tat-toroq imma n-numru tal-karozzi li jagħmlu użu minnhom u li sirna dipendenti wisq fuqhom.

Il-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport fih referenza għall-analiżi bażika li tindika x’qed jikkawża l-problemi tagħna: s’issa ma konniex kapaċi nħarsu fit-tul fl-ippjanar tat-trasport. Jiġifieri aħna nfittxu l-benefiċċji mmedjati u ninjoraw l-impatti fit-tul.
B’mod speċifiku taħt it-titlu “Intejbu l-ippjanar u d-diżinn għat-traport integrat u li jħares fit-tul” il-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport jgħid hekk: “……….. nistgħu naraw, mill-esperjenza, li l-politika u l-ippjanar tat-trasport f’Malta ġeneralment ħares lejn l-immedjat ( 4 sa 5 snin). In-nuqqas li tingħata importanza lejn l-ippjanar fit-tul ifisser li ma hemm l-ebda pjan integrat ibbażat fuq analiżi solida, b’miri ċari li jħarsu fit-tul. Dan wassal għal nuqqas ta’ direzzjonji strateġika u n-nuqqas ta’ kapaċità li jkunu indirizzati materji diffiċli bħall-kontroll fuq l-użu ta’ karozzi privati. Is-soċjetà Maltija bil-mod biex tiċċaqlaq, u dan f’kuntrast mal-ħtieġa għal azzjoni biex il-problema tat-traffiku tkun indirizzata kemm illum kif ukoll fil-futur. Dan iwassal biex il-vjaġġatur Malti jistenna li kulħadd jibdel id-drawwiet tiegħu ħalli hu jkun jista’ jibqa’ jsuq il-karozza. ” (sezzjoni 2.2.1 tal-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Transport)

L-affarijiet ma jistgħux ikunu iktar ċari minn hekk. Il-problema hi waħda: d-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi. Toroq li jkunu usa’ jew itwal jistgħu jsolvu l-problema tal-konġestjoni tat-traffiku għal żmien limitat. Imma kif ġie repetutament ippruvat minn studji li saru f’diversi pajjiżi oħra, l-interventi fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq, fl-aħħar jispiċċaw biex iżidu l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku, u dan għax iżidu it-traffiku.

Min-naħa l-oħra, il-proċess biex jitnaqqas id-dipendenza fuq il-karozza jieħu l-ħin, u l-votanti mhux ser jieħdu ġost!

Sfortunatament, uħud mill-dawk li kienu kritiċi tal-proġett iffukaw fuq id-dettalji u ma ħarsux lejn il-proġett fih innifsu, fit-totalità tiegħu, u allura ma rnexxilhomx japprezzaw kemm hi kbira l-ħsara li ser jagħmel il-proġett fit-totalità tiegħu.

Dan il-proġett m’għandniex bżonnu. Neħtieġu li niffukaw fuq il-problema li ġiet evitata kontinwament għax il-politiċi fil-Parlament u fil-Gvern ma jridux jieħdu deċiżjonijiet li m’humiex popolari. Għal din ir-raġuni iroxxu l-flus u jonfquhom, taparsi qed isolvu l-problemi. Mhux flushom, ovvjament, imma dak li jiġbru mit-taxxi minn fuqna. Il-problemi tal-lum, b’hekk, ikunu trasferiti f’ħoġor il-ġenerazzjonjiet futuri.

Is-soluzzjoni meħtieġa ma tinvolvix ħafna xogħol infrastrutturali imma prinċipalment inizjattivi politiċi biex jinkoraġixxu l-użu ta’ mezzi alternattivi ta’ mobilità u dan flimkien ma inizjattivi li jippenalizzaw l-użu tal-karozzi privati.

Biex inkun ġust fil-kritika tiegħi ngħid li xi inizjattivi ittieħdu diġà u oħrajn bla dubju jitwettqu ukoll. Żdied sostanzjalment is-sussidju għat-trasport pubbliku. Ittieħdu inizjattivi diversi dwar aċċess b’xejn għat-trasport pubbliku lil diversi kategoriji u eventwalment hu ippjanat li dan ikun b’xejn għal kulħadd. Dan kollu tajjeb, iżda mhux biżżejjed. Flimkien ma dawn il-miżuri u bosta oħrajn hemm bżonn inizjattivi li jippenalizzaw l-użu tal-karozzi privati. Dawn jistgħu jinkludu żieda fit-taxxi applikabbli kemm għar-reġistrazzjoni tal-karozzi kif ukoll għall-liċenzji. Dan iwassal għal tnaqqis fin-numru tal-karozzi fit-toroq.

It-taxxi ambjentali jagħmlu l-ġid. Huma l-għodda politika li jekk użati tajjeb jgħinu biex tissolva l-problema tal-konġestjoni tat-traffiku illum.

Għax il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku hu l-prezz li l-ġenerazzjoni tal-lum qed tħallas għall-inkompetenza akkumulata tal-gvernijiet differenti fl-amministrazzjoni tal-politika tat-trasport. Sal-lum ġie evitat li jkunu ndirizzati l-problemi reali. Fir-realtà ma hemmx soluzzjonjijiet maġiċi: irridu naffrontaw il-problema. Sakemm nagħmlu hekk, il-problema tikber tista’.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 21 ta’ Lulju 2019

Central Link project: the cost of incompetence

We are all in agreement that traffic congestion is a massive problem.

However, it is indeed unfortunate that those responsible for implementing transport policy at times give the impression that they are not aware that, in approving the Central Link project they are ignoring the cause of the problem and instead they are focusing on the effects. The issue in question is not the length or width of our roads but the number of cars making use of them.

Our roads are bursting at the seams as a result of an ever-increasing number of cars that is out of proportion to the size and needs of our islands.

The debate on the Central Link project focused on many important issues: air quality, the protection of agriculture, the protection of trees, cycling lanes –  all of which are of marginal significance to the real issue. The cause of the problem is not the size of our roads but the number of cars on which we are so dependent.

The National Transport Master Plan contains a reference to the basic analysis which identifies our transport problems: a lack of long-term vision. We seek immediate gains and ignore the long-term impact.

Specifically, under the heading “Improve integrated and long-term strategic transport planning and design” the following is included in the National Transport Master Plan: “This objective has been defined since, historically, it can be seen from experience that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has generally been more short-term (4-5 years) in nature. The lack of importance given to long-term planning means that a long-term integrated plan based on solid analysis with clear objectives and targets is lacking. This has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint. There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change but this is in contrast with the need for communal action to address the traffic problems existing now and in the future. This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.” (section 2.2.1 of Transport Master Plan)

Can it be clearer than this? The problem is car dependency and nothing else. Congestion can be temporarily solved with new and wider roads. It has been proven by studies carried out in other countries that infrastructural interventions in the road network will, in the end, increase traffic congestion because they end up generating more traffic.

On the other hand, addressing car dependency adequately will take a long time and it comes with a voter backlash!

Unfortunately, some critics have focused on the details and ignored the holistic view of the whole project, and consequently failed to grasp the real damaging issues at stake. We do not need a central link. We require focusing on the central problem which has been avoided time and again because politicians in Parliament and in government do not want to make unpopular decisions. Hence, they throw money at problems, thereby postponing them into the future. Today’s problems being once more shifted onto future generations.

The solution required should not involve substantial infrastructural work but policy initiatives which encourage the use of alternative means of mobility, as well as initiatives that penalise the use of private cars. We need to use both carrots and sticks as effective policy instruments.

In fairness, some initiatives are being taken and others are undoubtedly in the pipeline. Subsidies applicable to public transport have been increased substantially. Initiatives regarding access to free public transport – presently for various categories but eventually free to everyone – are laudable carrots. On their own, however, they are not enough. They need to be coupled with adequate policy initiatives which penalise the use of private cars. This could include increase to car registration tax as well as in car circulation taxes.

Environmental taxation is not a dirty expression. It is a policy that holds the keys to the solution of our traffic congestion that we should be solving now.

Traffic congestion is, in reality, the cost that the present generation is paying for the accumulated incompetence of our governments to date in managing transport policy. So far, the real issues have been avoided. It is about time we realise that there is no magical solution: we have to face the real cause of our problem head-on and, until this happens, the problem will get worse.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 21 July 2019

Post-electoral reflections

When voters repeatedly elect a candidate accused of usury and money-laundering into public office, it is inevitable that I ask the question as to whether, really, the voters are always right.

In view of this reality it is inevitable that now, more frequently than ever, I ask myself why I am in politics. Following the electoral counting process presents the stark reality of the substantial number of spoilt ballot papers – with a variety of comments written in very colourful language.

Answering my daily question, now more than ever, I choose to stay on as I am driven by a sense of duty towards the ordinary man and woman who request continuous help in facing their daily problems caused by an insensitive state buttressed by a variety of colourful hangers-on.

It is unfortunate that immediate gain, as opposed to long-term benefits, is the obvious choice of a majority of voters, irrespective of the locality. Tomorrow is too far away to feature in today’s choices and, as a result, voters are continuously misguided instead of being assisted in making their choices.

I am obviously disappointed that no green local councillors were elected in the latest election. Moreover, the only green councillor currently in office, Ralph Cassar in Attard, was not re-elected. The result was affected by a low turnout, coupled with a reduced number of cross-party voters in the locality. Ralph has given sterling service to Attard for a considerable number of years, almost uninterruptedly since the 1990s.

The voters’ decision not to re-elect Ralph Cassar but then for voters in another locality to  repeatedly elect a person charged with usury and money-laundering is mind-boggling.
“Crooks are everywhere” could be too simplistic an explanation. They are certainly present but their presence is definitely not ubiquitous. It would be unfair to tar all those who stand for public office with the same brush, because most of them are drawn into public life through a sense of public service.

Why am I in politics? “To be of service to the community” is the answer which I have repeatedly and convincingly given since my youth. It is a service against an ever-intruding state. It is a service in favour of the betterment of our quality of life through ensuring the optimisation of policy-making and implementation, focusing on addressing the common good.

Throughout the past months and years, together with fellow greens, I have striven hard to ensure that more people are conscious of the need to prioritise ecological issues. Tackling environmental issues is a political matter because it involves continuous political decision-taking on a large variety of issues – ranging from food and pesticides to land-use planning in all its complexities or water management.

Those who continuously plead against linking environmental issues with politics are unfortunately not conscious that each and every decision impacting the environment is a political decision. Politics is also a service to the environment, ideally seeking to ensure that long-term views prevail over short-term egoistic decisions.

During the past weeks. Alternattiva Demokratika focused on several environmental issues regarding the need to improve our urban environment. The agenda is topped by a need to improve transport planning and reclaiming back our roads and ensuring adequate accessibility for all. Reducing the number of cars from our roads is an urgent requirement but there is no interest in achieving it as an objective. This will keep up the pressure on our public spaces which are either being taken up by more parking spaces or else by tables and chairs servicing catering establishments.

It is indeed unfortunate that the voters who share these objectives did not sufficiently support those who continuously strive to address them.

It is difficult to answer the question as to why I am in politics striving to attain environmental protection in order to better our quality of life, when everything seems to be pointing in a different direction. However, there is no alternative. Putting egoistic short-termism aside is an absolute priority.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday – 2 June 2019

Il-politka dwar it-trasport: aġenda moħbija?

Il-Gvern kontinwament jibgħat sinjali kontra xulxin fuq kulma għandu x’jaqsam mal-politika dwar it-trasport. Sinjali li jvarjaw skond min ikun qiegħed jisma’. Lura f’Settembru 2017 Joseph Muscat kien iddikjara li kienet il-politika tal-Gvern immexxi minnu li f’data fil-viċin kien ser jieħu passi biex fil-pajjiż ma jibqgħux jiġu impurtati karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-diżil. Price Waterhouse Cooper jidher li ġew imqabbda biex iħejju rapport dettaljat dwar dan.

Minn dan is-sinjal ċar tistenna li toħroġ konklużjoni loġika. Għax jekk ser jibda l-proċess biex fit-toroq tagħna ma jkollniex iktar karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-diżil, xi bżonn għandna tal-pompi tal-petrol u d-diżil iktar milli diġa għandna? Il-logika twasslek biex tikkonkludi li ta’ l-inqas ikollna waqfien immedjat u allura ma joħorġux permessi iktar għal pompi ġodda.

Minflok dan, iżda, ġara eżattament bil-maqlub. F’daqqa waħda kellna attività bla preċedent b’numru ta’ applikazzjonijiet għal pompi tal-petrol u d-diżil iktar minn qatt qabel. L-applikanti, bla ebda dubju huma konxji minn dak li qal il-Gvern dwar fejn irid jasal. Għalfejn jissograw investiment kapitali sostanzjali biex jiżviluppaw pompa li għaliha ma jkun hemm l-ebda użu hekk kif il-miri tal-Gvern jintlaħqu?

Il-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport 2025 kien imfassal għall-amministrazzjoni preżenti mill-konsorzju Italo-Spanjol Ineco-Systematica u ġie ffinanzjat mill-Fond Ewropew għall-Iżvilupp Regjonali. Dan il-pjan jenfasizza li l-politika dwar it-trasport f’Malta u l-ippjanar konness magħha ma tħarisx fit-tul. Biex ikun ċar daqs il-kristall il-pjan jgħid hekk: “In-nuqqas ta’ importanza li ngħata lill-ippjanar fit-tul ifisser li ma hemmx pjan integrat ibbażat fuq analiżi b’miri ċari. Dan wassal f’nuqqas ta’ direzzjoni strateġika kif ukoll fin-nuqqas ta’ kapaċità li jkunu indirizzati materji diffiċli bħal dik dwar il-kontroll tal-użu ta’ karozzi privati.”

Biex jassigura ruħu li dan il-messaġġ jasal, il-Pjan Nazzjonali dwar it-Trasport jemfasizza li “Hemm resistenza qawwija għall-bidla fis-soċjetà Maltija. Dan jikkuntrasta b’mod qawwi mal-ħtieġa li tinħass fil-komunità biex ikunu indirizzati l-problemi tat-traffiku, kemm dawk tal-lum kif ukoll dawk ta’ għada. Dan iwassal biex is-sewwieq Malti jippretendi li ħaddieħor jibdel l-attitudnijiet tiegħu ħalli hu jew hi tkun tista’ tibqa’ ssuq il-karozza.”

Il-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Trasport imbagħad jidħol fid-dettall fuq il-miri operattivi dwar it-trasport fuq l-art, bl-ewwel mira tkun biex tkun ipprovduta alternattiva għall-karozzi privati ħalli b’hekk tkun inkoraġġita l-mobilità sostenibbli u allura tonqos id-domanda għall-karozzi privati fiz-zona madwar il-port li hi soġġett għal konġestjoni sostanzjali.

Għalfejn il-Pjan Nazzjonali jidentifika dan l-oġġettiv speċifiku? Dan qed isir biex ma jkun hemm l-ebda ambigwità. Il-Pjan Nazzjonali innifsu jispjega dan kollu b’mod mill-iktar ċar, iswed fuq l-abjad. “Dan l-oġġettiv ġie żviluppat minħabba li l-informazzjoni miġbura turi li madwar ħamsin fil-mija tal-vjaġġi jdumu inqas minn kwarta, li jindika li l-mobilità hi waħda lokali u fuq distanzi qosra. Dan joħloq il-possibilità li tiġi inkoraġġuta żieda fil-mixi u l-użu tar-rota.”

L-affarijiet ma jistgħux ikunu ċari iktar minn hekk. Id-distanzi qosra biex naslu pratikkament kullimkien hi element bażiku li fuqha u madwarha għandha tinbena l-politika tat-trasport f’Malta. Jekk dan ninjorawh nibqgħu nagħmlu l-ħsara lilna infusna.

Jekk verament irridu innaqqsu l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku fit-toroq tagħna, is-soluzzjoni hi waħda ċara: għandna nindirizzaw il-kawża ta’ dan kollu u nnaqqsu l-użu tal-karozzi privati għax għad-distanzi zgħar li għandna f’pajjiżna, fir-realtà, ftit li xejn għandna bżonnhom.

Imma flok ma jaħdem biex inaqqas il-karozzi mit-toroq, il-Gvern għaddej bi programm biex jinkoraġixxi l-oppost: twessiegħ ta’ toroq, flyovers u eżerċizzju sfrenat biex it-toroq tiżdiedilhom il-kapaċità li jifilħu iktar u iktar karozzi.

Għalfejn? X’inhi l-aġenda moħbija?

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 31 ta’ Marzu 2019

Transport policy: a hidden agenda?

Mishandling all matters relating to transport policy, the government is continuously sending conflicting signals, depending on who is listening at a particular moment. Way back in September 2017, Joseph Muscat made a policy declaration that his government would soon be taking steps to stop cars with internal combustion engines from entering the Maltese market. Price Waterhouse Cooper have apparently been commissioned to draw up a detailed study on the matter.

Given this clear signal, one would expect the logical conclusion: if we are to start the road map to eliminate cars with internal combustion engines from our roads, what need is there for additional fuel service stations? Logically, one would at the very least expect an immediate moratorium on the construction of new fuel stations.

Instead, we have the exact opposite. All of a sudden, we have unprecedented activity and development applications for more fuel stations then ever before. The applicants are undoubtedly aware of government’s objectives. So why would they risk a substantial capital outlay to develop a fuel station for which there would be little use if government’s declared objectives come to fruition?

The National Transport Master Plan 2025, drawn up for the present administration by the Italo-Hispanic consortium Ineco-Systematica and funded by the European Regional Development Fund, points out that transport planning and policy in Malta has been generally more short-term in nature. To be as clear as possible, the Master Plan continues by stating 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.”

To ensure that the message gets through, the Master Plan emphasises that “There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change but this is in contrast with the need for communal action to address the traffic problems existing now and in the future. This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.”

The Master Plan then details its road transport operational objectives, the first one of which is to provide alternatives to private vehicles in order to “encourage sustainable travel patterns and reduce private vehicular demand in the congested harbour area”.

Why has the Master Plan identified this specific objective? There is no room for ambiguity, as the answer is provided in the Master Plan itself – in black on white: “This objective has been developed since the data shows that about 50% of trips are under 15 minutes illustrating that mobility is produced at a local level on very short paths. This therefore creates the opportunity to increase the modal share for walking and cycling.” It could not be more clear than this. Short distances to practically anywhere is the basic building block of our transport policy, which we ignore at our peril.

Do we want to reduce congestion on our roads? The solution we have been advised to opt for is to reduce vehicular traffic, as most of it is not really needed due to the short distances actually travelled.

Instead of reducing the number of cars on our roads, our government opts for the exact opposite: the widening of roads and the development of flyovers and underpasses to increase the capacity of our roads and, as a result, make way for more and more cars.

What is the hidden agenda?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 31st March 2019

Malta u Għawdex: problema komuni tat-trasport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Improve integrated and long-term strategic planning and design: This objective has been defined since historically, it can be seen from experience that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has generally been more short-term (4-5 years) in nature. The lack of importance given to long-term planning means that a long-term integrated plan based on solid analysis with clear objectives and targets is lacking. This has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint.

There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change but this is in contrast with the need for communal actions to address the traffic problems existing now and in the future. This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.” (paġna 88 tal-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Transport 2025)

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

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

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

Malta & Gozo share a transport problem

The Malta-Gozo tunnel debate is now in full swing.

Going through the arguments of those expressing themselves in favour of the proposed tunnel between Malta and Gozo, one specific reason sticks out: the need to reduce travelling time.

May I point out that this problem – the need to reduce travelling time – is not peculiar to Gozitan commuters: it applies all over the Maltese Islands. Yet no one is proposing the drilling of a tunnel below Marsamxett Bay to reduce travelling time between Valletta and Sliema. Nor is a tunnel between Valletta/Floriana and Bormla on the books, even though this would reduce the travelling time between Valletta/Floriana and the Cottonera area.

The solution adopted to reduce travelling time across Marsamxett Bay and the Grand Harbour has been to tap sea transport and not the drilling of tunnels below the seabed! The end result is a faster access between Valletta and Sliema on the one hand and between Valletta and Cottonera on the other hand: and a number of cars off our roads, every day.

Facilitating the mobility between Malta and Gozo can easily be carried out by means of a fast ferry service between Gozo, Sliema and Valletta. It would be a ferry facilitating the movement of people and, as a result it will be addressing the real issue: the mobility of individuals.

Unfortunately, the Gozo tunnel lobby, led by the Gozo Business Chamber, has decided that the only solution to the lack of sustainable mobility between Gozo and Malta is a tunnel. It is, in fact, the worst possible solution because, in the process, it will ruin Gozo in an irreversible manner.

The real issue to be addressed is to remove cars from the equation. This is, in fact, the real obstacle to achieving a sustainable solution to our mobility issues, not just in respect of Gozo but also with reference to Malta.

I have emphasised time and again that adherence to the National Transport Master Plan 2025 approved for Malta in 2015 is the solution to most of our sustainable mobility issues. This extract from the Master Plan clearly explains all that is wrong with transport planning in Malta:

“Improve integrated and long-term strategic planning and design: This objective has been defined since historically, it can be seen from experience that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has generally been more short-term (4-5 years) in nature. The lack of importance given to long-term planning means that a long-term integrated plan based on solid analysis with clear objectives and targets is lacking. This has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint.

There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change but this is in contrast with the need for communal actions to address the traffic problems existing now and in the future. This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.” (page 88 of National Transport Master Plan 2025)

Malta and Gozo share the same transport problem. The problem is a three-letter word: car. The solution to our mobility problem requires alternatives to the use of the private car and the tunnel is not one of them. If we are ready to dump our dependency on cars, the rest is not difficult to achieve.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 6 January 2019

Il-politika dwar it-trasport: ħtieġa li nħarsu fit-tul

Biex nindirizzaw sewwa l-ħtiġijiet tal-pajjiż jeħtieġ li nħarsu fit-tul. Biex dan iseħħ hu meħtieġ ippjanar serju: li wara li jikkonsidra l-possibilitajiet kollha u janalizza l-impatti li jistgħu jirriżultaw iwassal għal deċiżjoni dwar l-aħjar soluzzjoni u mbagħad sussegwentement li din tkun imwettqa.

L-implimentazzjoni tal-politika dwar it-trasport, f’Malta, ma tħarisx fit-tul. Dan minkejja li għandna pjani ppreparati riċentement: il-Master Plan dwar it-Trasport li jwassal sal-2025 u l-Istrateġija Nazzjonali dwar it-Trasport li twassal sal-2050.

Imma sfortunatament hemm diskrepanza mhux żgħira bejn il-politika dwar it-trasport u l-implimentazzjoni tagħha. L-interventi fl-infrastruttura mwettqa jew li qed jitħejjew minn Trasport Malta u/jew Infrastruttura Malta ftit li xejn jaqblu mal-għanijiet dikjarati tal-Master Plan u l-Istrateġija dwar it-Trasport.

Ħa nkun ċar: mhux qed ngħid li m’għandu jsir xejn. Id-diżastru li qed niffaċċjaw fil-qasam tat-trasport jista’ jsir agħar milli hu illum jekk ma jsir xejn. Jeħtieġ bla dubju intervent mill-Gvern, imma dan jeħtieġ li jkun ippjanat u iffukat fuq il-problemi reali kif identifikati fil-pjani mfassla għall-Gvern Malti fl-2015 mill-konsulenti tiegħu tal-konsortju Italo-Spanjol Ineco-Systematica, imħallsa mill-fondi Ewropej dwar l-iżvilupp reġjonali.

L-għanijiet li jeħtieġ li jintlaħqu huma mfissra fid-daħla għall-Master Plan dwar it-Trasport li hi ffirmata mill-Ministru tat-Transport ta’ dak iż-żmien Joe Mizzi: “Malta, bħal bosta pajjiżi oħra qed tiffaċċja l-isfidi riżultat ta’ bdil fl-istil ta’ ħajja li ngħixu u li qed iwasslu f’domanda ikbar għall-mobilitá personali u dipendenza ikbar fuq karozzi privati. Iktar minn qatt qabel illum jeħtieġilna li nfittxu bilanċ bejn, fuq naħa waħda l-ħarsien tal-ambjent, il-protezzjoni ta’ saħħitna u li nilqgħu għall-impatti negattivi tat-tibdil fil-klima u fuq in-naħa l-oħra t-titjib fl-ekonomija tal-pajjiż. Dan iwassal għal insistenza għal transport pubbliku li jkun aħjar u ta’ min joqgħod fuqu, u għall-użu ta’ mezzi oħra (ta’ transport) kif ukoll integrazzjoni aħjar ta’ dawn il-mezzi.”

Dan hu messaġġ ċar li jemfasizza l-ħtieġa urġenti li nagħmlu użu ta’ mezzi alternattivi ta’ transport kif ukoll li nassiguraw illi nintegraw sewwa l-facilitajiet ta’ transport li għandna. Huwa propju dan li jagħmel il-Master Plan tat-Trasport.

Huwa tajjeb li ninnotaw illi l-Master Plan jemfasizza li nofs il-vjaġġi li jsiru b’karozzi privati fil-gzejjer Maltin jdumu inqas minn 15-il minuta. Dan jindika li din il-mobilitá hi waħda primarjament ta’ natura lokali fuq distanzi qosra. Dan, fil-fehma tal-Master Plan, jagħtina l-opportunitá li ninkoraġixxu iktar mixi u użu tar-rota. Imma, iżid jgħid il-Master Plan, hemm il-ħtieġa ta’ titjib fil-kwalitá tal-faċilitajiet fiċ-ċentri tal-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna, kemm għal min jimxi kif ukoll għal min jagħmel użu mir-rota.

Dan jurina b’mod ċar li jeżistu soluzzjonijiet li jindirizzaw il-mobilitá tagħna kemm fil-lokalitajiet infushom kif ukoll bejn l-lokalitá u oħra. Dawn is-soluzzjonijiet, li jħarsu fit-tul, għandhom il-possibilitá li jindirizzaw nofs il-vjaġġi li jsiru bil-karozzi privati, l-parti l-kbira minnhom fil-ħinijiet li jkun hemm ħafna traffiku fit-toroq tagħna. Dan mingħajr ma biss nikkunsidraw xi bypass jew proġett ta’ toroq massiċċ. Safejn naf jiena, s’issa, fit-tliet snin li suppost illi ilu fis-seħħ il-Master Plan tat-Trasport, ma ittieħdet l-ebda inizjattiva ta’ din ix-xorta. Dan hu qasam ta’ ħidma li fih is-sehem tal-kunsilli lokali huwa essenzjali għax ifisser li hemm il-ħtieġa li niddiżinjaw mill-ġdid it-toroq u l-ispazji pubbliċi kollha tagħna b’mod li nittrasformawhom biex ikunu għas-servizz tar-residenti u mhux iktar biex jiffaċilitaw l-użu tal-karozzi kif wara kollox huma illum.

Il-karozzi ħadulna t-toroq. Hemm bżonn li neħduhom lura.

Li ntejbu l-infrastruttura tat-toroq tagħna u dik li nsejħulha l-għamara tat-triq twassal biex jibda jkun implimentat il-Master Plan tat-Trasport għax jinkoraġixxi t-tnaqqis fl-użu tal-karozzi privati għad-distanzi qosra: u dan ftakru li jinvolvi nofs il-vjaġġi li jsiru bil-karozzi! Iktar emfasi fuq il-ħtieġa ta’ użu tat-transport pubbliku fuq livell ta’ lokalitá għandu jwassal ukoll għal żieda fl-użu bejn lokalitajiet fil-qrib. Jekk dan isir sewwa, bla dubju, tonqos id-dipendenza fuq il-karozza privata u iktar nies tifhem kemm ma hemmx ħtieġa tal-proġetti kbar ta’ toroq li hawn għaddejjin bħalissa li huma sempliċiment ħela ta’ flus li nistgħu nużaw ħafna aħjar.

Din hi stampa żgħira tal-ħarsa fit-tul li l-konsulenti Italo-Spanjoli tal-gvern fasslu fil- Master Plan tat-Trasport. Hi għodda tajba li tista’ tgħinna nnaqqsu d-dipendenza żejda tagħna fuq il-karozza privati, li wasslet għall-qagħda diżastruża fit-toroq tagħna illum. Għandna nimplimentaw dawn il-proposti malajr kemm jista’ jkun: illum qabel għada.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 9 ta’ Settembru 2018

 

 

 

 

Transport policy: missing the long term view

To  adequately tackle a country’s needs, a long-term view is essential. This necessitates serious planning: that is to say considering all the possible options, analysing the resulting possible impacts, taking a decision on the optimum solution and then implementing that decision.

The implementation of transport policy in Malta is such that the long-term view is almost completely discarded. I say “almost” because it exists on paper in the form of a Transport Master Plan running untill 2025 and a National Transport Strategy running untill 2050.

Unfortunately, there is a mismatch between transport policy and action. The infrastructural interventions being planned or being carried out through Transport Malta and/or Infrastructure Malta do not match the declared objectives in the Transport Master Plan and Strategy.

Let me be clear: doing nothing is not an option. The current transport mess cannot be left unattended as it can only get worse. It requires government intervention, which must be planned and focused on addressing the real issues identified in the transport plans drawn for the Maltese government in 2015 by the Ineco-Systematica Consortium, the Italo-Spanish consultants paid for from EU regional development funds.

The objectives to be achieved are encapsulated in the forward to the Transport Master Plan signed by former Transport Minister Joe Mizzi: “Malta, like many other countries, faces the challenges of lifestyle changes that have resulted in increased demand for personal mobility and more dependence on private cars. Today, more than ever, we need to strike a fine balance between protecting our environment, preserving our health and mitigating the negative impacts of climate change, on the one hand, and improving economic performance on the other. This will call for better quality and more reliable public transport, a shift to alternative modes and better integration between these modes.”

It is a clear and unambiguous statement emphasising the urgent need for a modal shift to alternative transport means and ensuring appropriate integration between the transport facilities available. The Transport Master Plan does precisely this: it plans the way to achieve this modal shift in a 10-year timeframe.

It is pertinent to point out that the Transport Master Plan 2025 underlines the fact that 50 per cent of journeys by private vehicles in the Maltese islands are of under 15-minutes duration, indicating that substantial mobility produced at local levels on very short paths. This, opines the Master Plan, creates the opportunity to increase the modal share for walking and cycling, as the distances travelled are short. However, it adds: “there is the need to promote and strengthen the quality of the pedestrian and cycling facilities” within and around town centres.

This clearly indicates that long term solutions can be found in addressing the mobility preferences within localities themselves, as well as between neighbouring localities. This has the potential of tackling 50 per cent of vehicles movements, a substantial portion of them during peak-traffic time, without even considering any bypass or major road project. I am not aware of any such initiative so far, three years after the approval of the Transport Master Plan. It is an area of action in which the involvement of local councils is essential, as it will involve redesigning practically all of our roads and public spaces in each and every locality in order that they are transformed to be resident-friendly rather than vehicle-friendly, as they have been to date.

Cars have taken up our roads and we need to take them back.

Improving our locality infrastructure and street furniture so that our roads are resident-friendly should be the first step in implementing The Transport Master Plan and, remember, this involves 50 per cent of trips made by private vehicles. Adding emphasis to the need to make more use of public transport, even at a local level, should also increase its use between neighbouring localities. If done properly, this could further reduce the dependency on private vehicles and consequently put a substantial break on the perceived need of massive road infrastructural projects which are just monies down the drain which we could definitely put to better use.

This is just a snapshot of the long-term view that the government’s Italo-Spanish advisors provided in the Transport Master Plan 2025. It is a tool which can help wean us away from excessive dependency on private cars that has resulted in a transport policy failure over the years. It is about time that the provisions of this Master Plan are implemented, and the sooner, the better.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 9th September 2018