Traffic is political – Ralph Cassar

Decisions affecting the way a country is run, affecting people and their environment are by their very nature political decisions. There are differenti approaches to issues. There are those who take decisions to postpone taking the real and necessary decisions, a favourite strategy of the PLPN duo. Following the decision to approve the Central Link project a few weeks ago, many more people started to question the use of widening roads. Local activists, with Alternattiva Demokratika at the forefront have been criticising the concept of widening roads for years of course. However, now more than ever, it is clear that the strategy considered as a sure solution to traffic by successive Nationalist and Labour governments is in fact a colossal failure. The more the procrastination the more draconian the measure which will need to be taken in the near future. Obviously PM Muscatis only too happy to leave crisis management to his successor. The politics of looking good by avoiding issues.

Whilst a significant public shift in public opinion on a failed paradigm is positive, the shift itself is not enough. For change to happen, decision makers must be held accountable for their actions by the people who put them in power. That is why environmental matters need to be discussed in a political context. Leaving politics out of the Central Link project exonerates those who are failing us now, and also those who will fail us tomorrow. At this point, it may be unclear on exactly who is failing us and how exactly they may be failing us. So let me elaborate further.

Let’s start off with the current government. As regards transport this government actually has a pretty solid road map, the Malta Transport Master Plan 2025. Unfortunately, and rather incredibly, the government after commissioning and adopting the plan pretty much decided ignore it. The plan mentions carrots and sticks. Government albeit with a huge majority is too spineless to start the transition to sustainable mobility. The plan acknowledges the 50% of car trips are shorter than 15 minutes, whilst also suggesting that the government provides alternatives to car use. The plan itself puts forward a number of options including cycling corridors, bus corridors and a low emission zone. Muscats Cabinet is too lily livered to initiate real change.

Today cycle lanes start from nowhere and end nowhere, with no proper lanes along arterial roads. Bus lanes have decreased, with no sign of the bus priority corridors mentioned in the master plan. Low emission zones, well, abandoned by Nationalist governments, giving respite to residents in polluted areas, has so far been left on the back burner by the ‘best government of the best country in Europe’. What government is doing is contrary to the very spirit of the plan. The master plan suggests greater investment in other forms of transport, whilst also taking active measures to discourage active use of cars, the very opposite of widening roads. 

The Nationalist Party does not have much to offer. A two party system, the minimum for so-called democracy leads to the state of affairs in this country. PN and PL are copies of each other. The PN is in fact totally incapable of offering credible alternatives to the PL model. Its reaction, apart from the not-so-inspiring speeches on climate change from its leader Adrian Delia, has been to shift the topic of conversation about mobility issues to the increase in foreign residents. Adrian Delia rattles on about climate change while Toni Bezzina ralis against a young Labour activist for writing a disserttion about reducing car use. Obviously, given the sorry state of politics in this country the Labour activist makes it crystal clear that Labour will not take measures to get people out of their cars. PN’s narrative almost makes it seem as if traffic is a recent phenomenon, and not a plague which has been with us for decades due to short sighted decisions, including their own. To make matters worse, they even took a jibe at the government for increasing subsidies for public transport, and for the increase in fuel prices by €0.05 per litre. Labour would have done the same had it been in opposition. Funny. Sad. Silly. There’s a film/documentary about climate change called ‘The Age of Stupid’. Pity it wasn’t filmed in Malta.

Considering Labour’s obsession with cars, and the PN’s clueless strategy to gain votes by pulling cheap shots on the government, it is clear that both parties are totally incapable of pushing for a shift to cleaner and more sustainable modes of transport. It is for this reason that they should not be exonerated. Those who want better, must demand better rather than accept mediocrity and populism. Party loyalists, and those who have an interest in maintaining the status quo, actively encourage people to choose between the second-worst option. However, when this country grows up, the PLPN duopoly will be smashed to smithereens. Fortunately in the European Parliament the Green Group is now more influential than ever. What the Maltese ‘glorious’ parties never had the vision to do, might come through European Union directives and regulations. 

I am proud that Alternattiva Demokratika is at the forefront pushing for action on many issues ranging from social justice to sustainable transport. I am proud of our vision which does away with car dependency, and instead focuses on more open spaces and pedestrian areas, so that people can socialise and enjoy their locality. A well-rounded vision aims to incentivise other transport options ranging from walking and cycling to large-scale transit systems such as the metro or light rail. These cleaner methods of transportation are to be given precedence over cars. Transit systems need to be used to be viable and this should mean more pedestrianisation, more areas inaccessible by cars, and low emission zones through which the polluter pays. It is useless moaning and complaining, if you always find excuses and prefer more of the same.

Ralph Cassar
Published in the Maltatoday – Sunday 15 September 2019