The Malta Independent 17 July 2019, Wednesday

Metro should be considered for Gozo tunnel - Gozo University Group President

Albert Galea Sunday, 14 April 2019, 09:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

A metro should be an option considered for the Gozo tunnel as opposed to the current proposal of a two-lane thoroughfare, while the cost of accommodation and the lack of transport connections between Cirkewwa and Msida remain the biggest challenges that Gozitan students face, Gozo University Group President Rachel Galea told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

The student organisation had initially been in favour of the concept of a tunnel after a survey they carried out with Gozitan students, but they recently changed their stance on the matter, with Galea stating that certain details which were emerging about the proposed tunnel were not as they should be.


She said that the plan for the tunnel to have only one lane in each direction was their main concern, pointing out that if there was an accident in the tunnel, or during very  busy periods such as during Carnival, there would be a significant amount of traffic clogging the tunnel.

Asked what the ideal alternative should be, as opposed to the details currently emerging, Galea said that the idea of incorporating a metro system into the tunnel should be actively considered.

She added that, regardless of the form the tunnel took, it is a long-term measure, and there are a number of short-term measures that can be taken to improve Gozitans' quality of life before the tunnel is built. She gave as examples the introduction of a fourth ferry, a fast-ferry service and the laying of a second fibre-optic cable to the island.

Asked whether she had any concerns that the building of the tunnel would result in Gozo becoming a victim of the same over-development that is currently enveloping Malta, Galea responded in the affirmative, adding that - even today - one can see a certain level of over-development in places such as Xlendi and Marsalforn.

"There needs to be a level of control on the part of the authorities, she said. They cannot simply let people build everywhere you look."

The Gozo University Group (GUG) represents around 1,000 Gozitan students who study at the University of Malta and are the main lobbyists for the rights of these students.

Asked what the main challenges are for Gozitan students who are reading for a degree at the University of Malta, Galea cited two primary challenges that most affect them: the cost of accommodation and transport connections between Cirkewwa and the University campus in Msida.

Many of the 1,000 Gozitans who study at the University of Malta rent accommodation in Malta, which means living away from their families. She explained that these students pay anything between €150 - if they are lucky -  and €250 per month, per bed.  She said that up to six students would normally share a flat and that the cost mentioned above does not include the other living expenses that they face on a daily basis.

Galea said that most of these students live in Msida, close to the University campus, but many have been forced to find lodging in surrounding areas such as Swatar, as the cost of accommodation has risen to the point where many families simply cannot afford it.

She pointed out that there have been recent efforts to provide help for these students, saying that the GUG, together with the KSU - the University's students' council - had recently come to an agreement with Engel & Volkers Sara Grech so that Gozitan students are exempt from paying agency fees when renting from the company, before adding that the Curia has also offered a place for Gozitan students to stay in as they pursue their studies.

Meanwhile, when it comes to transport, Gozitan students suffer from a lack of connections between Cirkewwa and Msida.  Galea said that there are the X1 and X1A buses, but the latter is too infrequent and the former is not synchronised with the ferry timetable and is always full, as it serves other areas such as the airport.

Galea said that students had to organise private transport, but the daily cost of this was being driven up as operators know that the students have no other feasible alternative to use. 

She called for an increase in the number of buses on the X1A route, which operates on a direct route between Cirkewwa and Msida, frequency and for them to be synchronised with the ferry timetable so that students have a feasible method of public transport to use.

A number of governments have spoken of breathing new life into Gozo and creating more jobs on the island. When she was asked if this has started to come to fruition and whether Gozitans who finish their studies are finding suitable  employment options on the, Galea said that this depended on the sector in which they were looking for work.

For example, while it remains quite difficult to find a job in Gozo in the legal sector, she said, there have been encouraging signs for those who want to work in the accounting or banking sector, with some new businesses recently opening in Gozo.

However, the age-old perception remains: "Students still assume that they will not find a job in Gozo or that, if they do, their salaries will not be the same as those in Malta," she concluded.


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