Committing to alternative transport

The entire transport sector is governed through confusion, with populist promises, short-term thinking, and ineffective decision making. This situation is not new, and a lack in vision has long been a hallmark of transport policy. However, Ian Borg, either through his attitude when facing critics, or through his obsession with aggressively pushing through his ineffective ideas at all costs, seems to have really managed to irk certain segments of the population.

That said, the discontent needs to turn into action. Many different actors, ranging from academics to activists, and our own party ADPD of course, have provided sensible proposals, aimed at making transport more sustainable, and thereby addressing the negative externalities created through the current car-centric model.

Whilst these proposals are sound, and logical, the government of the day has always seemed to find a way around these arguments. When faced with criticism, the government can always state that measures such as road widening would reduce emissions or improve air quality in the area. If that fails, then a good old cycle lane in the middle of nowhere would do the trick. The government now seems to be infatuated with the idea of electric cars, and while these pollute less than normal vehicles, they are not in any way ideal.

The impact of car use must be looked at holistically. Cars do not only pollute, but they also require space, a lot of it! Our beautiful town centres are covered in parking spaces, and agricultural land is constantly being taken away to cater for more cars. Cars are also expensive, and they take up much of the hard-earned money of the average worker and prevent that worker from enjoying the input of their hard day’s work. Then there’s traffic, endless traffic, which turns even the shortest commute, into a fully-fledged nightmare. Clearly, simply shifting to electric vehicles will not solve any of these issues – we need a rethink!

Well, there is a solution, and it is not even that complicated. The current push to shift to electric vehicles is mainly due to international commitments, aimed at reducing emissions. What we can therefore do, is set forward national commitments to reduce car use, because as discussed above, large scale car use is causing a lot of problems – and it is also preventing effective investment in other modes of transport.

Imagine if the Maltese government were to commit to reduce the distance travelled by vehicles by a certain amount. The government would have to implement effective measures to achieve that target, and those measures would be measurable. If the government were to add a poorly designed cycle lane, then it could not brag about it, as it simply would achieve the required targets. The only way in which the government could achieve these targets is to prioritise sustainable mobility over cars.

Such measures would also encourage the government to think in the long term, and push the country on the right track: A sustainable Malta, with walkable town centres, that preserves agricultural land, with less traffic, and yes with more money in people’s pockets.

Samuel Muscat
ADŻ Member
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 7 February 2021