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

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L-iskandlu tal-Volkswagen fit-toroq Maltin

BBC.VW cheating

 

In-numru ta’ karozzi fit-toroq tagħna hu wieħed kbir, anzi hu kbir ħafna. It-toroq ma jesgħux daqstant karozzi tant li f’xi ħinijiet dawn ikunu ġġammjati bħalma rajna dal-għodu, issa li reġgħu bdew l-iskejjel. Skond iċ-ċifri uffiċjali, sa l-aħħar ta’ Ġunju fit-toroq tagħna kellna 340,981 karozza, inkluż dawk ta’ użu kummerċjali. Jiġifieri 802 karozza għal kull 1000 ruħ li hawn f’Malta u Għawdex.

Hemm ħtieġa li jonqsu l-karozzi fit-toroq. Dan jista’ jseħħ biss kemm-il darba t-trasport pubbliku jagħmel il-qabża tant meħtieġa fil-kwalità, biex ikun użat iktar u b’hekk joffri alternattiva kredibbli u prattika għall-użu tal-karozzi privati.

Sadanittant bosta jibqgħu jagħmlu użu minn karozzi privati, b’numru li qiegħed dejjem jiżdied u li qed ikompli jħassar il-kwalità tal-arja ta’ pajjiżna. Il-posizzjoni dejjem qed tmur għall-agħar meta uħud minn dawk li jimmanifatturaw il-karozzi, minn fuq, jabbużaw mill-posizzjoni tagħhom.

Fi tmiem il-ġimgħa li għaddiet tħabbar li l-Iżviżżera waqqfet temporanjament il-bejgħ tal-mudelli tal-karozzi li jaħdmu bid-diesel li tipproduċi l-Volkswagen u li sal-lum hu magħruf li huma effettwati mill-iskandlu tal-emmissjonijiet moħbija. L-iskandlu tal-Volkswagen.

Il-karozzi effettwati, mudelli li jaħdmu bid-diesel li ġew immanifatturati bejn l-2009 u l-2015 huma VW Jetta, Beetle u Golf, il-mudell Passat tal-2014-15, u l-mudell Audi A3 ta’ bejn l-2009 u l-2015. Minn dawn jidher li hemm ħdax-il miljun karozza imxerrda mat-toroq tad-dinja.

F’Malta sadanittant l-informazzjoni għadha qed tinġabar. Għax nhar is-Sibt tħabbar li Transport Malta fl-aħħar bdiet tiċċaqlaq u talbet l-informazzjoni lill-aġenti lokali biex tkun tista’ tagħmel il-verifiki meħtieġa.

X’qed tistenna Trasport Malta biex bħall-Isvizzera temporanjament twaqqaf il-bejgħ ta’ dawn il-karozzi billi żżommilhom il-ħruġ tal-liċenzja? X’qed tistenna Transport Malta biex tissospendi temporanjament il-liċenzji ta’ dawn il-karozzi diġa fit-toroq tagħna u mgħammra b’dan l-apparat li jaħbi t-tniġġiż rejali li jikkawżaw?

It-tniġġiz li qed jikkawzaw dawn il-karozzi huwa wieħed sostanzjali. Skond dak li diġa ntqal fil-media dan it-tniġġiż ivarja bejn 20 darba u 35 darba dak li hu permess.

L-istorja ħarġet fil-media l-ġimgħa l-oħra, imma r-riżultati tat-testijiet li saru ilha magħrufa 18-il xahar. Imma f’dawn it-18-il xahar ma sar xejn la mill-kumpanija Volksvagen u l-anqas mill-Gvern Ġermaniż, bit-tama li l-istorja tintesa.

Minflok, matul dawn it-18-il xahar inbiegħu iktar karozzi. B’hekk żdiedu iktar il-karozzi fit-toroq li jniġġsu ħafna iktar milli hu permess.

Hemm bżonn li Transport Malta tfittex tieħu passi billi tneħħi mit-toroq tagħna dawn il-karozzi li qed iniġgsu ħafna iktar milli hu permissibli. Irid jieqaf ukoll immedjatament il-bejgħ ta’ dawn il-karozzi sakemm isirulhom l-aġġustamenti neċessarji biex it-tniġġis li jikkawzaw jinġieb f’livell aċċettabbli.

Huma f’dawn il-mumenti li jkollna l-provi dwar kemm l-awtoritajiet f’Malta jaħdmu fl-interess tagħna lkoll.

kummentarju imxandar fuq RTK – It-Tnejn 28 ta’ Settembru 2015

L-iskandlu tal-Volkswagen

Volkswagen. Das Cheater

 

Id-dettalji tal-iskandlu tal-Volkswagen  fl-iStati Uniti tal-Amerika għadhom ħerġin. L-istorja kollha, forsi, għadha mhux magħrufa s’issa.

Jidher li dan l-iskandlu jinvolvi madwar nofs miljun karozza li taħdem bid-diesel (qed issemma ukoll iċ-ċifra ferm ikbar ta’ 11-il miljun karozza) kif ukoll żieda ta’ madwar miljun tunellata ta’ emmissjonijiet ta’ NOx li jniġġzu l-arja u li  fil-parti l–kbira tagħhom huma ta’ ħsara għas-saħħa.

Dan jidher li seħħ minħabba li diversi karozzi prodotti mill-kumpanija Volkswagen kellhom apparat elettroniku stallat li kien inaqqas it-tniġġiz meta l-karozzi jkunu qed jiġu ittestjati liema apparat iżda ma kienx jaħdem f’ħin ieħor. Jidher li l-logħba kienet permezz ta’ software li kien istallat biex meta l-karozza tkun qed tiġi misjuqa b’mod normali l-kontrolli tal-emmissjoniiet kienu jintfew awtomatikament b’mod elettroniku. Dawn il-kontrolli iżda, kienu jerġgħu jinxtegħlu awtomatikament meta jkun għaddej xi test tal-emmissjonijiet.

Il-karozzi effettwati, mudelli li jaħdmu bid-diesel li ġew immanifatturati bejn l-2009 u l-2015 jidher li huma VW Jetta, Beetle u Golf, il-mudell Passat tal-2014-15, u l-mudell Audi A3 ta’ bejn l-2009 u l-2015.

Volkswagen qed tikkalkula li dan l-iskandlu ser jiswielha €6.5 biljuni fi ħsarat u possibilment mat-$18-il biljun f’multi fl-iStati Uniti tal-Amerika fejn ġie identifikat dan l-abbuż. Dan aparti multi f’pajjiżi oħra, kif ukoll, possibilment, proċeduri kriminali kontra d-diriġenti tal-kumpanija.

Il-ħsara lir-reputazzjoni tal-kumpanija, ukoll, diġa hi kbira ħafna.

Iktar tard illum, il-Kumitat tal-Ambjent tal-Parlament Ewropew ser jikkonkludi d-diskussjoni dwar abbozz ta’ leġislazzjoni li taġġorna r-regolamenti dwar it-tniġġiz mill-karozzi Euro 5 u Euro 6 applikabbli fl-Unjoni Ewropeja. Fi stqarrija li ħareġ il-bieraħ,  il-kelliemi tal-Ħodor Ewropej Bas Eickhout qal li ilu magħruf li l-manufatturi tal-karozzi fl-Unjoni Ewopeja qed iduru mar-regoli tat-tniġġiz tant li m’humiex josservawhom. L-iskandlu tal-Volkswagen fl-Istati Uniti għandu tiftaħ beraħ għajnejn kulħadd dwar dak li fil-fatt qed jiġri.

Nistennew li nkunu infurmati jekk ġewx mibjugħa minn dawn il-karozzi f’Malta u x’passi ser jittieħdu dwarhom.

Living on Ecological Credit

published

Saturday July23, 2011

An informal meeting of EU ministers of the environment held in Poland earlier this month reminded us that we are living on ecological credit. Our balance sheet with nature is in the red. It is healthy that EU politicians have recognised this fact.

Environmentalists have been campaigning for ages that the world is living beyond its means. International NGO WWF, for example, publishes information relative to ecological footprint analysis. From the information available, Malta’s ecological footprint is 3.9 hectares per person. This can be compared to an EU average of 4.9 hectares per person (ranging from a minimum of 3.6 for Poland and Slovakia to a maximum of 7.0 for Sweden and Finland) and a world average of 2.2 hectares per person.

This adds up to a total impact for Malta of about 50 times the area of the Maltese islands. A clear indication of the extent of Malta’s reliance on ecological credit.

Malta’s environmental impacts are accentuated due to the islands’ high population density.

Malta’s small size is in some respects an advantage but this advantage has been generally ignored throughout the years. The reform of public transport, currently in hand, could someday put the issue of size to good use by developing an efficient system of communication. This reform, however, has to be properly managed. Preliminary indications point to a completely different direction. I do not exclude the possibility of the achievement of positive results even if, so far, I am disappointed.

The results the Greens hope to be achieved from the public transport reform would be the increased use of public transport and, consequently, a reduction in the number of cars on the road. This will come about if bus routes are more commuter-friendly. A reduction of cars on the road will lead to less emissions and a reduction of transport-generated noise. It would also cut a household’s expenditure through the reduction of fuel costs.

Water management in Malta also contributes considerably to the island’s ecological deficit.

The commissioning of the Ta’ Barkat sewage purification plant means that Malta is now in line with the provisions of the EU Urban Wastewater Directive. But the actual design of the sewage purification infrastructure means that by discharging the purified water into the sea an opportunity of reducing the pressure on ground water and the production of reverse osmosis-produced water has been lost. The purified water could easily be used as second-class water or it could be polished for other uses. When the Mellieħa sewage purification plant was inaugurated it was announced that studies into the possible uses of the purified water were to be carried out. These studies should have been undertaken before the sewage purification infrastructure was designed as they could have led to a differently designed infrastructure. The system as designed means that any eventual use of the purified water will require its transport from the purification plants to the point of use. A properly designed system could have reduced these expenses substantially by producing the purified water along the route of the public sewers and close to the point of use.

Public (and EU) funds have been wrongly used. Water planners have not carried out their duty towards the community they serve through lack of foresight and by not having an inkling of sustainability issues.

It also means that those who advised the head of state to inform the current Parliament’s inaugural session in May 2008 that “the government’s plans and actions are to be underpinned by the notion of sustainable development” were not aware what that statement signifies. Repeatedly, the government, led by Lawrence Gonzi, falls short of addressing adequately environmental impacts, as a result pushing these islands further down the road of dependence on ecological credit.

The government could have opted for a fresh start in May 2008 by implementing the National Sustainable Development Strategy, approved by Cabinet some months prior to the 2008 election. Instead, I am reliably informed that the National Commission for Sustainable Development has not met a single time during the past 42 months. As a consequence, the strategy has been practically shelved and discarded.

I cannot and will not say that there have not been any environmental initiatives. While various initiatives have been undertaken, some only address impacts partially. Others have been embarked upon half-heartedly. It is also clear to all that government environmental action does not form part of a holistic vision. It rather resembles the linking up of loose pieces of unrelated jigsaw puzzle bits.

This contrasts sharply with the public’s awareness and expectations. The public is one step ahead awaiting its representatives to act in a responsible manner in accordance with their much-publicised statements.

Excessive ecological credit will inevitably lead to ecological bankruptcy. No EU or IMF will bail us out. It’s better to take our environmental responsibilities seriously before it is too late.

Reflections on Transport Policy

 
published on Sunday August 24, 2008

by Carmel Cacopardo
__________________________________________________________________________
 

 
 
 

 

It is not often that different issues, which could possibly lead to the formulation of one coherent policy, crop up simultaneously. Three such issues all dealing with transport policy are currently (and separately) under discussion. If adequately coordinated it could be possible to formulate one coherent transport policy that facilitates our mobility and simultaneously leads to less congested roads and a cleaner air.

The reduction of sulphur and lead in the fuels we used way back in the 1980s and the recent introduction of bio-diesel on the market were significant steps forward which unfortunately were not followed up with the formulation of a clear and coherent transport policy. Likewise the subsidies dished out by the State for the modernisation of the public transport fleet were limited to issues of accessibility (low floor).

Environmental indicators published recently by Mepa clearly show the main traffic arteries as the most densely polluted ones. The pollution levels in St Anne Street, Floriana sticks out, as do other residential areas, which have to put up with through traffic. Notably Msida, Fgura and Hamrun.

The reform of car registration taxation was triggered by EU infringement procedures as well as ECJ decisions relative to other European States. Car registration taxes, which in Malta are substantial, have, to date, not been a sufficient deterrent to placing 292,000 cars on Malta’s roads.

The issue of transport reform has been neglected for decades that it has now developed into a time bomb. The inefficient public transport is indirectly the cause of a large number of cars on the road and consequently is contributing to the further deterioration of the air we breathe.

These three issues are being dealt with separately, with Mepa analysing the effects, the Ministry of Finance seeking to retain taxation at its present levels and the Ministry for Transport facing the music.

Instead of being separate issues, the government should have taken this once in a lifetime opportunity of formulating a coherent transport policy with the Minister for the Environment taking the lead. This is the policy advocated by the National Strategy for Sustainable Development, which though approved by Cabinet after extensive consultation with stakeholders over a long time frame, seems to have been placed in hibernation.

The Sustainable Development Strategy for the Maltese Islands in fact considers it necessary to promote a sustainable transport system and calls for the formulation of an “integrated transport strategy”. Transport policy, the strategy says, has an important role in nurturing sustainable communities.

As indicated in the document issued by the Ministry of Transport some weeks ago, it is envisaged to overhaul public transport such that an integrated network is created making more of Malta accessible. When this is achieved one of the contributors to social exclusion would have been tackled.

The reform of public transport is crucial in the implementation of a transport policy because if reasonable accessibility were guaranteed, as it should be, through an efficient and punctual public transport, more custom would be attracted thereby reducing the number of cars on our roads. In such circumstances most of us would consider seriously making use of public transport more often.

In the short term this would have the effect of reducing the number of cars temporarily our roads. In the long term it could reduce the purchase of cars.

The most important effect on our families would be substantial improvements in the quality of the air we breathe coupled with fewer expenses.

In these circumstances car registration tax assumes the function of an environmental tax. In fact, the few details known so far indicate that emissions and car size would be the criteria on the basis of which the quantum of car registration tax payable would be determined. The splitting of the tax due into two, part due on registration and the rest payable throughout the car’s lifetime is also reasonable and an effective manner in which to apply the polluter pays principle. This would assist in the determination of impacts that vary throughout the lifetime of a car. Varying emissions could be determined through the VRT test, which should henceforth be used as a tool for determining the environmental impacts of cars currently on the road.

This is a long-term view of transport. It will undoubtedly not be to everybody’s liking. Car dealers, panel beaters, car mechanics would not be amused if fewer cars were our roads as it would reduce their work. Fewer cars on the road would also reduce government’s income because fewer taxes would be collected. But on the plus side it would be a bonus to our health.

Large communities living in those areas, which, year in year out are identified as having low air quality, would heave a sigh of relief. Those who over the years have developed respiratory diseases, most notably asthma, would welcome any improvements as these would be a boost to their quality of life.