Minister Miriam Dalli is partially right when stating that green transport schemes should focus on fully electric options. She made this statement when queried about subsidies for hybrid cars. Emphasising that zero-emission vehicles will be the only ones in receipt of funding assistance is the correct way forward.
But are electric cars in reality zero emission vehicles? In actual fact this is dependent on the source of electricity used when they are charged. When renewable energy is used to power electric vehicles, than we can state that they are zero emission vehicles, otherwise they are not.
There are other important considerations which need to be made. Green transport policy should be much wider than schemes subsidising zero-emission vehicles.
Only approximately 10 per cent of the energy utilised in the Maltese islands is renewable energy generated in Malta, primarily solar energy. The rest is either generated at the gas-powered Delimara power station or else imported through the interconnector with the Sicilian mainland. Plans are in hand to commission a second interconnector primarily to cater for the anticipated substantial increased demand for electricity as a result of the car electrification process.
Is this sustainable? Government is apparently ignoring this consideration.
Malta will be increasingly dependent for its immediate electrical energy needs on the interconnectors with the Sicilian mainland. Failure of the interconnectors to operate for more than a few hours would render most of us immobile as there will not be enough electricity to charge our cars! This is not a far-fetched possibility as we have experienced many a time when the interconnector was out of action, for a variety of reasons. A case in point being when the interconnector was damaged as a result of its being entangled with the anchors of a tanker during a storm.
In parallel with car electrification plans it is essential that the extreme dependency of our population on car ownership is addressed. This can be done through various initiatives.
Increased use of public transport is an initiative which is already being tackled. The announcement that as of October 2022 all public transport will be free of charge can be helpful if its efficiency is enhanced. If public transport is regular and sticks to the planned time-tables it can, over a period of time, contribute significantly to addressing car dependency. One has to underline the fact that car dependency in Malta and Gozo has primarily developed as a reaction to an unreliable public transport. As a result, there is still a reluctance to trust public transport. It still has to continuously prove itself, even though there have been significant improvements in the service provided.
Car-sharing schemes can be helpful in reducing cars from our roads. Currently in Malta we have one company offering the service of 450 cars which are available for shared use (against payment obviously). Using one of these cars instead of owning your own helps in reducing cars from our roads. Having just 450 cars being subject to shared use is however too little. Fiscal incentives including subsidies to those opting to share cars rather than to own them could be helpful.
We should continuously remember that in most cases, in Malta, we travel for short distances. Having less cars on our roads will also contribute to more road safety and consequently this would encourage more walking and cycling, especially when the distance involved is small.
Electrification of our roads on its own is not sufficient. It is just one of a number of tools which need to be applied in transport policy to contribute to a reduced climate impact, attain safer roads, achieve cleaner air and also to ensure more sustainable mobility.
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 23 May 2022