Simple: more roads, more traffic, more pollution – Ralph Cassar

We need to reclaim our roads and squeeze a substantial number of cars off the roads. Instead government is making access to cars easier by increasing the capacity of our roads.

Malta will probably fail emission targets because of traffic and congestion, an EU report has declared. Greenhouse gas emissions are accompanied by pollutants directly dangerous to health pollutants from diesel and petrol. Despite all this, they will not tell you the painful truth. The real coalition between PL and PN will still go on and on about bypasses, flyovers and tunnels and their irresponsible and downright stupid tribal bragging about ‘fuel in our days was cheaper than when the others were in power’.

Recent ‘solutions’ to traffic were the dismantling of a weak public transport system into an even weaker skeleton service by Austin Gatt and his circle of Thatcherite ‘advisers’. Their ideological anti-public service vision has left a negative long lasting effect. They still brag about their low €6 million in subsidies.

The real and painful truth is that public transport needs huge investment. The tens of millions spent today are still not enough, even because buses stuck in traffic will obviously not arrive on time. The working conditions of bus drivers are still not good enough to attract enough people to take up the job. Long hours on the road and breaks which are too short is just one aspect which needs to be tackled, together with giving public transport priority along our roads.

There is demand for public transport. Just try catching a bus from central locations such as Birkirkara and Mosta – full up! Hourly buses such as the 202 which links Rabat, Attard, Mosta, St Julian’s and Sliema, taking forever, are simply not enough. The Rabat-Dingli-Mtarfa routes which are supposed to pass every 10 minutes through Attard, sometimes show up every half an hour instead, again, full up. I’m sure other readers can come up with other examples they are familiar with. A hundred times better than Austin Gatt’s disaster is still not enough.

Ian Borg’s solution? Roads and flyovers. Take Attard. He wants another road. Yes, it has been planned since the 1960s, but is still a false solution. It will just shift the traffic issue somewhere else, probably to the Mriehel bypass. In 2017 Borg should come up with other solutions. It is a myth that more roads will solve the problem. The opposite is true: the Attard road will be a magnet for more traffic. Evidence of induced traffic abounds in technical literature.

The painful truth, that most people refuse to acknowledge, is that there are too many cars on the road. There is no single solution, but as AD has been proposing over and over again, lots of solutions which together will decrease congestion. Things will not improve overnight, but we have to start.

Interesting concepts like the ‘Alternative grid’ proposed by Daniel Scerri Periti need to be seriously considered and acted upon. The government’s timid pilot projects on sea transport, and safe bicycle paths from Mosta to University need to become the main policy focus of Transport Malta.

Instead of wasting billions in an undersea tunnel and the hundreds of millions spent in widening roads here and there, this money would be better spent in strengthening the bus system, investing in modern modes of transport (what happened to the light rail proposal?) and safe routes for bicycle and pedelec commuters linking at least all high population localities. Linking University, MCAST, the Msida-Gzira-Sliema-St Julian’s area, Birkirkara, Mosta, Bugibba, Paola and Fgura through safe routes would be an very good start. Heavy subsidies on bicycles and pedelecs should be a long term project, until take-up is significant, freeing up road space for those who really need it.

A career as a public transport driver should be made enticing and interesting – with training and decent rest periods, not to mention good pay. Those who offer essential services should be shown respect, also in monetary terms. Public transport does not come cheap, and it surely should not be kept cheap off the backs of employees in the sector.

Will they start telling us the truth? Will they take the necessary steps which will give real results? Or will they remain at each others’ throats promising fake, and probably populist, non-solutions?

We need to reclaim our roads and squeeze a substantial number of cars off the roads. Instead government is making access to cars easier by increasing the capacity of our roads. Topsy-turvy!

Ralph Cassar
Published on the Malta Today – 1 December 2017