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

Reducing 122,000 vehicles from Malta’s roads


traffic congestion

source :


The government is apparently worried about parking problems being faced by practically all localities in Malta and Gozo. In fact, during a press conference by Transport Minister Joe Mizzi in Rabat recently, it was stated that a policy document on parking has been submitted for Cabinet’s consideration, prior to its being issued for public consultation. As usual, the government worries about effects and is very rarely willing (or able) to exercise some thought on the causes of the everyday problems we all face.

The National Statistics Office says that at the end of the Third Quarter of 2014, Malta had 332,455 vehicles on its roads.  With a population of around 421,000 this translates into 790 vehicles per 1000 population, one of the highest vehicle ownership profiles in the world. Being one of the smallest countries, with everywhere being within easy reach, it would be logical to expect that Malta should have a much different and lower vehicle ownership profile. This also sharply contrasts with the vehicle ownership profile of the USA (786), Italy (682), UK (516), Spain (592) and Switzerland (573). Even Luxembourg’s profile which stands at  741 per thousand is lower than Malta’s.

To visualise the severity of the problem, it is being stated that if Malta were to have a vehicle ownership profile of say 500 vehicles per thousand population (close to that of the United Kingdom  which currently stands at 516), the total number of vehicles on Maltese roads would be 210,673, that is a reduction of 121,784 vehicles from the current total. This would amount to a reduction of 36.63% of vehicles on Malta’s roads at present. This I submit is a realistic objective that we should aim for: reducing 122,000 vehicles from Malta’s roads.

Thus the issue which  should be tackled by Malta’s Minister for Transport is not one of seeking space for parking but reducing the number of vehicles on our roads. While parking is a problem, which will undoubtedly get worse, it is not the major transport problem in Malta.  Extensive car ownership is “the” problem. Too many vehicles on the road is not a sign of affluence but a clear indicator of administrative incompetence throughout the years. This should be the primary target of transport policy: facilitating sustainable mobility for all while reducing radically the number of vehicles on the road, thereby reversing the accumulated impacts of administrative incompetence.

Unfortunately, the government’s objective so far seems to be the precise opposite: making way for more vehicles on the road. This is the only real significance the parking policy-in-waiting or of major transport infrastructure projects in the pipeline which absorb millions of euros. These funds  could easily be used to promote more fruitful objectives.

It should focus on facilitating sustainable mobility for all while reducing vehicle ownership as a policy target would address traffic congestion, parking and air  and noise pollution. An added benefit would be that it would also cost much less to both the state and to the individual. In the long term, as a result of reduced air pollution, we will also have less respiratory illness, consequently reducing both the individual as well as the national health bill. Fewer cars on the road would also encourage more bicycle use and maybe the introduction of more and continuous bicycle lanes in contrast to the intermittent ones currently provided by Transport Malta.

This cannot be done overnight. Having been neglected for the past 50 years or so, it will take quite some time to reverse the dependence on private vehicles nurtured by a public transport system which was allowed to disintegrate. Various policy initiatives can be taken. Both the carrot and the stick have a role in such policy initiatives.

A number of interim measures may need to be introduced until such time as the new public transport provider, Autobuses de Leon, establishes itself firmly. When this is done, it is in everybody’s interest that public transport use is the success it never was to date.

A public transport system has to be both efficient and reliable. To achieve these objectives substantial subsidies are essential. This is the primary reason why the Arriva experiment failed. It was starved of subsidies as a matter of policy and was expected to survive on a relative pittance.  Even on the drawing board, it was clear from day one that the Arriva experiment was doomed to fail.

Public transport is not made up just of the public buses. The monorail initiative currently on the drawing board as well as adequate sea-transport  [servicing primarily Valletta, Sliema and the Three Cities] will also go a long way to reduce th number of  vehicles from our roads.

These are the policies which the government should consider implementing. Will it be bothered?

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: Sunday 4th January 2015

Learning to use chopsticks


We have been told that it is most worrying that China could acquire a share in our energy corporation. It is worrying, we are told, due to the strategic importance of the sector.

We tend to forget that Malta has plenty of foreign investments in other strategic sectors. Another one wouldn’t change much would it?

Our only airport is run by Austrians.

Gambling has been left to  Greek Intralot.  Banking is heavily influenced by global HSBC ironically originating from Hong Kong, the tip of the Chinese mainland.

The public  transport fiasco has an Anglo-German fingerprint through Arriva.

LPG Gas is controlled by Italians through GASCO.

The Freeport is controlled by a Franco-Turkish alliance for the next 65 years. (CMA-CGM and Yildirim Group)

When its Austria, Greece, Anglo-German interests, Italian investments, Franco -Turkish controls, or global HSBC then its globalisation.

The Chinese interest is part of the same process.

Obviously the details of the memorandum of understanding signed earlier this week are not yet known. Hence a proper discussion would have to wait until such details are known. There will surely be positive and negative impacts. China stands to gain. Whether Malta’s potential gains are adequate is still to be seen as we have only been fed titbits of information.

China obviously stands to gain through establishing a stronger foothold in Malta and within the EU.  Whether it will be similarly positive for Malta is still to be seen.

Some Chinese companies are world class. They provide stiff competition to international firms such as Lahmeyer International the one time consultants to the Malta Resources Authority and to Enemalta Corporation. Some of these Chinese companies have reached the same grade in World Bank blacklists !

We have been there before.

It may turn out not to be so difficult to learn to use chopsticks after all !

Fil-Parlament għada t-Tnejn: mera għal Lawrence Gonzi


Għada t-Tnejn 10 ta’ Diċembru 2012, Lawrence Gonzi, Prim Ministru, b’diskorsu, jġib fi tmiemu l-ewwel fażi tad-diskussjoni dwar il-budget ghall-2013. L-oratorija m’hiex ser tonqos imma s-sustanza wisq nibża’ li ser terġa’ tkun assenti.

Ser iwieġeb dak li qal il-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni, li l-anqas hu ma qal kull ma kien jeħtieġ li jingħad. Lawrence Gonzi ser jipprova jfissrilna kif inhu meħtieġ li l-inċertezza li hawn fil-pajjiż tinqata’ billi jkun approvat il-budget.

Lawrence Gonzi iwaħħal f’kulħadd talli l-inċertezza mhux biss nibtet imma firxet l-għeruq tagħha fil-fond. Jaħseb li hu biss m’għandu l-ebda ħtija. Kulħadd għandu l-obbligu li jerfa’ r-responsabbiltajiet tiegħu, jgħid. Imma dawk ta’ madwaru huma esklużi.

Din kienet leġislatura ħażina sa minn l-ewwel jum: għandha fuqha s-saħta tal-Mistra. Saħta li titfa d-dell fuq iż-żewġ naħat tal-Parlament.

Is-saħta tal-Mistra qegħda fuq Lawrence Gonzi għax fl-iskandlu tal-Mistra ipprova jgħatti l-iżbalji u ma kellux il-kuraġġ morali li jgħid li JPO kien żbaljat. Ipprova jpinġieh bħala vittma meta l-vittma vera kienet il-komunita’. Konmunita’ li suppost kellha istituzzjoni maħluqa apposta biex tiddefendiha – il-MEPA. Minflok  iżda din il-MEPA kienet kompliċi u għażlet li tiddefendi l-istupru tal-pajjiż.

Is-saħta tal-Mistra qegħda fuq Joseph Muscat ukoll.  Il-predeċessur tiegħu Alfred Sant kien iddeskriva lil JPO bħala morally and politically corrupt.  Imma Muscat ma ħass l-ebda skruplu biex jinqeda bih.

Hekk ġara fil-każ tal-barriera li Gonzi u RCC riedu li titħaffer quddiem il-Kon Katidral ta’ San Ġwann. Hekk ġara ukoll fuq il-mozzjoni biex il-Parlament iddikjara li m’għandux fiduċja f’RCC.

Id-dnub ma jorqodx u jidher li qed joqrob żmien il-kontijiet.

Il-konfront ta’ Gonzi ma Franco Debono hu żejjed għal partit li diġa qiegħed jegħreq. Kien hemm mument partikolari iżda li kien hemm possibilita’ li l-affarijiet ma jikkumplikawx ruħhom. Kienu ippreżentati quddiem il-Parlament żewġ mozzjonijiet.

L-ewwel mozzjoni kienet ippreżentata minn Franco Debono innifsu u kienet kritika tal-politika tal-Gvern ta’ Gonzi dwar il-Ġustizzja u l-Intern. Kritika qawwija u kienet tieqaf hemm.

It-tieni mozzjoni kienet ippreżentata minn Jose’ Herrera u Michael Falzon: barra li kienet tikkritika l-politika tal-Gvern dwar il-Ġustizzja u l-Intern kienet tipproponi ukoll vot ta’ ċensura fil-Ministru Carm Mifsud Bonnici.

Gonzi għażel li jpoġġi fuq l-agenda tal-Parlament il-mozzjoni tal-Opposizzjoni u ħalla fuq l-ixkaffa l-mozzjoni ta’ Franco Debono. Jiġifieri għamel għażla favur mozzjoni b’konsegwenzi negattivi u warrab mozzjoni li kienet tikkritikah u tieqaf hemm.

Nafu fejn wasslet din l-għażla. B’għażla ta’ Gonzi l-Parlament spiċċa sfiduċja lil Mifusd Bonnici. Deċiżjoni li Gonzi seta’ jevita imma ma riedx. Għaliex għamel hekk hu jaf.

Meta Gonzi jħares fil-mera ma jara l-ebda sinifikat fil-każ ta’ korruzzjoni ta’ Noel Borg Hedley (ex-Segretarju Privat tal-Ministru Tonio Fenech) li fil-Qorti ammetta akkużi ta’ korruzzjoni mill-iżviluppaturi JPM Brothers.

Il-fjask tal-Arriva bir-responsabbilta’ politika dwaru li kellu jinġarr minn Austin Gatt l-anqas ma kellu sinifikat għal Gonzi meta jħares fil-mera.

Issa  ħarġet oħra. Fir-rapport tal-Awditur Nazzjonali l-inkompetenza fl-amministrazzjoni finanzjarja tal-kumpanija tal-Gvern Wasteserve hi imfissra fid-dettall. L-iktar li jispikka hu dak il-kuntratt ta’ miljun euro li spiċċa jissarraf f’kuntratt ta’ disgħa u għoxrin miljun euro. Qiesu ma ġara xejn. Is-sejħa biex George Pullicino jerfa’ r-responsabbilta’ politika u jwarrab ma tfisser xejn.

Quddiem dan kollu it-talba ta’ Gonzi biex il-budget ikun approvat tistona. Għax il-vot fuq il-budget mhux biss vot favur budget rigressiv imma hu ukoll vot favur Gvern li hu moralment zopp. Gvern li jrid lil kulħadd jimxi sewwa imma hu mhux kapaċi jagħti l-eżempju. Għax repetutament irrifjuta li jerfa’ r-responsabbilta politika ta’ għemilu.

X’ser jiġri għada jiena ma nafx. Naf iżda ħaga waħda: li l-Gvern wasal sa hawn għax Lawrence Gonzi ma kienx kapaċi japplika għalih il-kejl li bih hu jkejjel lil ħaddieħor.

Il-Partit Nazzjonalista ġustament qed jitlob li l-Imħallef Lino Farrugia Sacco jirreżenja. Jekk il-PN japplika l-istess kejl għall-Kabinett ta’ Lawrence Gonzi m’għandix dubju li jinbidlu l-Ministri kollha, Gonzi innifsu inkluż!

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


To: Arriva Customer Services <>,

Fenech Pace Mikela at OPM <>

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.