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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Infrastruttura Malta qed tinjora l-unika soluzzjoni

Għadhom kif ġew ippubblikati l-istudji li jiffurmaw parti mill-EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) dwar il-proġett infrastrutturali tat-toroq bejn l-Imrieħel u Ħ’Attard : is-Central Link Project. Il-konsultazzjoni pubblika ser tibqa’ għaddejja sal-21 ta’ Frar 2019.

L-istudji ippubblikati huma voluminużi. Apparti r-rapport finali miktub mill-koordinatur tal-EIA b’543 paġna hemm 11-il rapport tekniku dwar temi ta’ relevanza. Dawn ivarjaw mill-użu tal-art, il-pajsaġġ u l-impatti viżivi, il-ġeoloġija, l-ilma, l-ekoloġija, l-agrikultura, l-arkejoloġija, l-kwalità tal-arja, il-ħsejjes, l-infrastruttura u s-servizzi u l-aċċess pubbliku.

Dawn ir-rapporti nkitbu bejn Awwissu 2015 u Jannar 2019 u fihom madwar 1400 paġna. Fiż-żmien qasir li ilhom aċċessibli ma kienx possibli li jinqraw kollha. Imma, l-posizzjoni li qed tieħu Infrastruttura Malta, bla ebda dubju a bażi ta’ direzzjoni politika, hi waħda ċara ħafna.

Infrastruttura Malta qed tipproponi li tindirizza l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku fit-toroq tagħna bil-bini jew twessiegħ ta’ toroq flmkien mat-titjib ġenerali tal-infrastruttura tagħhom. B’dan il-mod, jidhrilha li l-konġestjoni tkun eliminata inkella tonqos drastikament. Dan għandu jwassal għal inqas emissjonijiet u allura titjieb il-kwalità tal-arja, jonqos il-ħin li jintilef tistenna fit-traffiku u allura jonqos ukoll il-konsum tal-petrol u d-dijsil li jinħela bil-karozzi weqfin jistennew.

Fil-Kapitlu 3 tar-rapport finali miktub mill-koordinatur tal-EIA hemm eżami tal-alternattivi għall-proġett ta’ toroq propost. Hemm sitt alternattivi li huma kkunsidrati. Dawn ivarjaw milli ma tagħmel xejn għal numru ta’ soluzzjonijiet infrastrutturali differenti. (ara paġna 66 tar-rapport)

Fir-rapport tiegħu l-koordinatur tal-EIA injora waħda mill-iktar miri ċari tal-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Trasport 2025: it-tnaqqis tal-karozzi mit-toroq. Meta kien approvat dan il-pjan nazzjonali stabilixxa numru ta’ miri operattivi. Il-mira 2.2.2 tistabilixxi l-ħtieġa ta’ alternattivi għall-karozzi privati biex tkun inkoraġġuta mobilità sostenibbli u tnaqqas il-karozzi miz-żoni fejn hemm il-konġestjoni. (Provide alternatives to private vehicles to encourage sustainable travel patterns and reduce private vehicular demand in the congested hub area). Il-pjan jispjega li dan l-oġġettiv kien identifikat li madwar ħamsin fil-mija tal-vjaġġi li jsiru b’karozzi privati jdumu inqas minn kwarta, liema fatt juri li dawn huma fuq distanzi qosra ħafna (ara paġna 95 tal-pjan).

L-EIA li Infrastruttura Malta tippreżenta għall-konsultazzjoni pubblika jonqos milli jikkunsidra l-implimentazzjoni ta’ dan il-mira fost l-alternattivi differenti kkunsidrati bħala soluzzjonijiet possibli għall-konġestjoni tat-traffiku. Probabbilment li Infrastruttura Malta qed tiffaċċja nuqqas ta’ rieda politika biex tittieħed azzjoni. Xi ħadd jeħtieġ li jispjega għaliex din l-għodda qed tkun skartata daqshekk malajr wara li ddaħlet tifforma parti mill-pjan tat-trasport.

Iktar kmieni dan ix-xahar konna nfurmati b’żieda sostanzjali fl-użu tat-trasport pubbliku matul l-2018. Kien rappurtat li kien hemm 53.4 miljun passiġġier li għamlu użu mit-trasport pubbliku fl-2018. Żieda ta’ 11.25% fuq l-2017. Hu ċar li l-pubbliku qed jirrispondi billi jagħmel użu mit-trasport sostenibbli offrut għall-użu tiegħu.

Transport Malta teħtieġ li taġixxi mingħajr iktar dewmien. Hemm ħtieġa ta’ pjan ċar biex tkun implimentata l-mira tat-tnaqqis tal-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Din hi l-iktar soluzzjoni li tagħmel sens għax hi soluzzjoni li tħares fit-tul. Meta dan il-pjan ikun stabilit, imbagħad ikun possibli li l-proġett Central Link ikun ikkunsudrat mill-ġdid f’kuntrast ma alternattiva realistika.

Sfortunatament il-Gvern naqas milli jifhem li diġa kellu f’idejh is-soluzzjoni għall-problema tal-konġestjoni tat-traffika. Soluzzjoni li tindirizza l-kawza (il-karozzi) flok ma tindirizza l-effett.

Huwa nuqqas kbir li l-EIA jonqos milli jqis dan kollu. Għax l-EIA suppost li hu proċess ta’ eżami indipendenti tas-soluzzjonijiet għall-problemi li ser ikunu indirizzati. Jeħtieġ li dan in-nuqqas ikun indirizzat immedjatament.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 20 ta’ Jannar 2019

 

 

 

 

Infrastructure Malta is missing the real alternative

The studies forming part of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the Central Link project dealing with the road infrastructure between Mrieħel and Attard has just been published. Public consultation runs up to 21 February 2019.

The studies published are voluminous. In addition to the coordinated assessment report – running into 543 pages – there are 11 technical reports dealing with various issues of considerable relevance. They deal with land cover and uses, landscape character and visual amenities, geology, water, ecology, agriculture, archaeology, air quality, noise, infrastructure and utilities and public access.

The reports dated between August 2015 and January 2019 run into approximately 1400 pages. In the limited time for which all the different reports have been available, it has not yet been possible to read through them.

Notwithstanding, the general approach of Infrastructure Malta – undoubtedly as a result of Ministerial direction – is very clear. It is proposed by Infrastructure Malta to alleviate the various bottlenecks on our roads, and the resulting traffic congestion, through the construction of new roads, the widening of existing ones and the upgrading of junctions. It is envisaged that, as a result of doing away with bottlenecks, the level of emissions will be reduced, thereby improving air quality, the time lost in traffic will be eliminated as well as the over-consumption of fuel, resulting in savings in both the fuel used and the emissions generated.

Chapter 3 of the coordinated assessment examines and assesses alternatives to the proposal under consideration. Six alternatives are considered, ranging from a do-nothing option to a number of specific infrastructural solutions, including a combination of such solutions (see page 66 of the coordinated assessment).

The coordinated assessment ignores one clear and specific objective of the National Transport Master-Plan 2025, that is a reduction in the number of cars on our roads. Approved in 2016, this master plan establishes a number of operational objectives for the implementation of transport policy. Objective 2.2.2 establishes the following: “Provide alternatives to private vehicles to encourage sustainable travel patterns and reduce private vehicular demand in the congested hub area”. The master plan explains that “this objective has been developed since the data shows that about 50 per cent of trips are under 15 minutes, illustrating that mobility is produced at a local level on very short paths.” (see page 95 of Master Plan)

The EIA presented by Infrastructure Malta for public consultation fails to consider the implementation of this objective among the various alternatives that can be used to address traffic congestion. It is possible that Infrastructure Malta is facing a brick wall due to a lack of political will to implement this objective. Someone needs to explain why this policy route is being discarded so soon after it being included into the Master Plan.

Earlier this month, we were informed about the substantial increase in the patronage of public transport. It was reported that during 2018, 53.4 million people had used public transport: an increase of 11.25% over 2017. It is clear that the public is responding through the uptake of the sustainable transport options being made available.

Transport Malta needs to stop procrastinating and take the bull by the horns. A road map for implementing the objective of reducing the number of cars from our roads is the only sensible way forward. It is the long-term view which is missing in our transport policy. Once this road map is clearly defined, then it would be easier to reassess – and probably substantially redefine and downscale – the Central Link project on the basis of a realistic alternative.

The government has, unfortunately, failed to appreciate that it has already identified policy tools with which to tackle traffic congestion. It had a solution in hand which targeted the cause of the problem: cars.

That the EIA also fails to assess this alternative is a significant flaw in the process, as this assessment should be an independent examination of the possible solutions to the identified problem. It needs to be addressed forthwith.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 20 January 2019

Central Link Project u l-Istudji Ambjentali

Sirna nafu li l-istudji dwar l-impatti ambjentali tal-proġett tat-toroq magħruf bħala Central Link Project lesti.

S’issa, dawn l-istudji għadhom mhumiex pubbliċi, u, fil-fatt, fil-mument li qiegħed nikteb ma hemm l-ebda informazzjoni fuq dawn l-studji fuq is-sit elettroniku tal-ERA, l-Awtorità dwar l-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi.

Imma, minn dak li ntqal s’issa minn uffiċjali f’isem Infrastruttura Malta l-problema b’dawn l-istudji ser tkun mhux daqstant dwar dak li jgħidu imma dwar dak li jħallu barra. Imma dwar dan inkun nista’ nitkellem aħjar meta r-rapporti jkunu ppubblikati għall-konsultazzjoni pubblika, kif hemm l-obbligu li jsir bil-liġi. Il-konsultazzjoni pubblika normalment tkun twila sitt ġimgħat imma tista’ tkun itwal ukoll.

Alternattiva Demokratika diġa tkellmet ċar dwar dan il-proġett inutli li ser ikompli jżid il-karozzi u (l-ħsara ambjentali) fit-toroq tagħna.

Il-posizzjoni ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika hi ċara daqs il-kristall: il-proġett imur dijametrikament kontra l-pjan nazzjonali tat-Trasport li fassal u approva l-Gvern: pjan li jrid inaqqas il-karozzi mit-toroq.

Kif ikollna ċans naraw l-istudji, hekk kif dawn ikunu pubblikati, nkunu nistgħu nitkellmu aħjar.

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