Free public transport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 27 January 2019

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A complaint to Arriva sent today

This is the text of a complaint sent to Arriva customer care earlier today and copied to the Office of the Prime Minister

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To: Arriva Customer Services <customer.services@cs.arriva.com.mt>,

Fenech Pace Mikela at OPM <mikela.fenech-pace@gov.mt>

Dear Sir/Madam,

I  am filing a complaint regarding the bus service from Kalkara to Valletta this morning. I was on the bus stop at Ix-Xatt this morning at 8.15  with the hope of getting on the 8.30 bus to Valletta. There were already about 20 people on the bus stop, apparently still waiting for the 8 o’clock bus which never arrived.  At 8.35 bus no. 213 to Mater Dei arrived (which was meant to arrive at  8.00) so everyone got on this bus and changed at Paola. At 9.00 we got on another bus from Paola  but the Kalkara bus was nowhere to be seen. Both the 8.00 and 8.30 buses never arrived at Kalkara. This is not my first email to you and I think the situation is utterly disgusting when you boast that our transport service is a Sterling Service. Already 15 months have passed and the situation at Kalkara is still unreliable.

Issa x’imiss li jiġri ?

Il-bieraħ il-Kumitat Eżekuttiv tal-PN iddeċieda li tlieta mill-Membri Parlamentari tiegħu: JPO, Franco Debono u Jesmond Mugliette ma jkunux kandidati tiegħu u f’ismu fl-elezzjoni ġenerali li jmiss. Fuq tnejn minnhom (JPO u Jesmond) ġja kien hemm dikjarazzjoni mill-kandidati infushom li ma riedux jerġgħu jkunu kandidati.  It-tielet wieħed, Franco, qal lill-media u riedna nemmnu li hekk kien, li Lawrence Gonzi riedu jerġa’ jkun kandidat. Ħalliha li Gonzi ċaħad dan.

Din tal-kandidaturi m’hi xejn. Kulħadd kien jistenniha għax kienet ovvja. Bħalma kienet ovvja li Austin Gatt kien ser ikun wieħed mill-iżjed li ser jopponi l-kandidatura ta’ Franco, kif l-istess Franco informa lill-media! X’tistenna? Wara l-kritika ħarxa lilu u lill-assistent tiegħu Manwel Delia (avolja kienet ġustifikata) fuq il-froġa tal-Arriva dan kien mistenni. Forsi Franco jirrealizza issa li l-astensjoni fil-vot ta’ sfiduċja dwar Austin Gatt kien żball da parti tiegħu. Għax il-konsegwenza loġika tal-argumenti tiegħu kellha tkun li Austin Gatt kellu jwarrab minn Ministru. Imma għal xi raġuni li s’issa għadni ma fhimtx Franco iddeċieda mod ieħor!

Fl-isfond ta’ dan kollu  Lawrence Gonzi irid li jtemm il-leġislatura sħiħa. Jiġifieri li l-Gvern immexxi minnu jibqa’ jiffunzjona sas-sena d-dieħla. Il-Parlament jista’ jibqa’ jiltaqa’ sad-9 ta’ Mejju 2013 u jekk jagħmel hekk l-iktar tard li tissejjah elezzjoni jista’ jkun is-Sibt ta’ qabel id-9 t’Awissu 2013. Dak il-massimu. Probabilment li Gonzi għandu f’moħħu li jġebbed sa Marzu 2013.

Imma l-mistoqsija hi : ser iwassal s’hemm?

L-aġenda parlamentari li hemm imħejjija għal wara l-vaganzi tas-sajf kif ukoll il-proġetti li jimmaturaw lejn l-aħħar tas-sena u l-bidu tad-dieħla jindikaw li Gonzi u l-PN ser jagħmlu sforz biex iġebbdu kif jistgħu. Imma dan ma jiddependix minnhom biss.

L-ewwel punt li jista’ jeffettwa hu x’ser jiġri mill-fattur RCC. Diġa jidher li JPO ser ikollu d-diffikultajiet. Il-Kummissarju tal-Pulizija, ġustament, qal li m’għandux ikollu x’jaqsam f’materja purament politika. Gordon Pisani hu ostili għal JPO u m’hu ser jgħid jew jagħmel xejn li jista’ jkun ta’ l-iċken ħsara għal Gonzi. Karmenu Vella diġa kixef idejh, u dak li qal jiddependi fuq il-kelma tiegħu kontra l-kelma ta’ RCC. Jibqa’ biss ix-xhieda ta’ Joe Mizzi u John Dalli!

Jiena m’hux qed nistenna li l-Kumitat Eżekuttiv tal-PN joħroġ b’xi kundanna għal RCC meta jidher ċar li l-argument prinċipali  ser ikun dwar il-kuntatti bejn RCC u uffiċjali tal-Gvern ta’ Alfred Sant dwar l-iskorta li kellu RCC minħabba l-attentat kważi fatali li kien seħħ fuq ħajtu fl-Imdina. Dan ta’ l-inqas joħrog minn dak li qal Joe Mizzi tal-Labour u f’dan il-kuntest hi relevanti x-xhieda tal-Kummissarju tal-Pulizija.  Il-kuntatti li qed jurtaw lil JPO probabilment żviluppaw minħabba li l-Gvern ta’ Sant irtira l-iskorta u RCC ħass (ġustament) li din kienet meħtieġa.

Fid-dawl ta’ dan jiena nistenna li l-Kumitat Eżekuttiv tal-PN joħroġ b’eloġju għal RCC u kundanna oħra għal JPO. Dan ikun ifisser li tiħrax il-kampanja pubblika ta’ JPO kontra l-PN u magħquda mar-reazzjonijiet ta’ Franco Debono ifisser li l-ewwel seduti tal-Parlament f’Ottubru jistgħu jkunu determinanti.

Fid-dawl ta’ dan Gonzi jista’ jikkunsidra li jxolji immedjatament biex jevita konfront ieħor. Bosta qed jgħidulu biex jagħmel hekk, imma jidher daqstant ieħor ċar li ser jibqa’ jirresisti sakemm ma jkollux triq oħra. Sakemm ikun inevitabbli li jwarrab.

Sakemm jibqa’ imqar l-iċken tama li jista’ jibqa’ għaddej fil-Parlament naħseb li ser jibqa’ mkaħħal mas-siġġu f’Kastilja.