The mobility revolution

Car ownership in Malta has risen significantly over the years. The government has responded to this issue by building more roads and this has led to an increase in traffic through induced demand. According to the Malta Chamber of Commerce, traffic has been rising by 2.3% annually since 1990. Furthermore, the average Maltese commuter spends about one hour a week stuck in gridlock. Constant development has shown to increase traffic in Malta rather than to reduce it, so what can the government do to reduce congestion?

A tried and tested method has been congestion pricing, which has shown positive results in cities like London, Stockholm and Singapore. New York City is planning on adopting a similar method in 2021. Congestion pricing works by charging drivers a small fee when entering a specific zone that is prone to traffic. Congestion pricing would only be in effect during rush hour. The money that is generated goes towards maintaining public roads and public transport. In London, overall traffic has gone down by 25%.

To further improve traffic, the Maltese government must improve the local bus system. Maltese public transport falls far behind our European counterparts. The average Maltese bus arrives every half an hour to one hour, whereas in Europe buses show up every ten minutes. Maltese buses should be free and have dedicated bus lanes whenever possible. The Malta Public Transport could offer direct bus connections between localities through a rapid transit system, introducing new routes that would make it easier to commute throughout the archipelago. The average commuter would not need to stop at Valletta, taking up more time than is necessary, where routes are planned as such that sometimes one arrives in Valletta just when the bus one needs is leaving, and then one has to wait an eternity for the next one to arrive.

Bus schedules should also run until midnight. Then it can change to a night service that would run throughout the archipelago. Night services are very sparse and do not serve every locality; not to mention it is incredibly inconvenient to use current night services. There should be at least one night bus for each major locality, as is the case in most major European cities.

Malta Public Transport needs to invest in alternative types of public transport. One idea which has been discussed would could be trams. According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFTA), trams reduce congestion in city centres by providing people with a quick, reliable, high-quality alternative to the car. They can reduce road traffic by up to 14%. Trams are essential to tackle climate change as they run on electricity rather than diesel, and electric buses lag behind in terms of technology compared to electric vehicles, and they are also incredibly expensive to run. Commuting by car also produces over three times as much CO2 as traveling by tram. Trams would mostly run through urban parts of the island such as in Sliema, Buġibba, Valletta, and the airport. Trams have seen a rise in popularity in the UK, in cities such as Croydon, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham have re-introduced trams. Trams would work in some areas in Malta and not in others; and offer an idea of what possibilities are available to us. There are many others to choose from as well, and much has been said by the Bicycle Advocacy Group which government should heed.

How would one pay for all of this? When one considers the amount of money being planned for the Gozo Tunnel, which is more of an electoral machination than a practical one, then one can start to see the big picture. As the country is planning a major transition and infrastructure upgrade for the shift to electric vehicles, then that may create a bottleneck as people are suddenly unable to import fossil fuel cars. At that time, public transport will become a more attractive alternative, especially if government invests in it. All of these major changes also need not happen overnight. It is a long-term view, whereby the shift from the private car to public transport is rolled out strategically. It may seem like an impossible challenge for the country today, but it is a transformation which the Netherlands needed to undertake as well. Every long journey happens one step at a time, we just need to agree on the direction.

Travis Camilleri
ADŻ Member
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 6 December 2020