The Malta Independent 3 August 2021, Tuesday

TMID Editorial: Metro talk - Are we being taken for a ride?

Saturday, 30 March 2019, 10:22 Last update: about 3 years ago

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat made certain statements regarding a possible metro system on Wednesday which could, in themselves be an attempt to take the Maltese population for a ride.

The cost of the project, Muscat said, must make everyone question the direction which the country is to take; "we cannot on one hand say that we do not want the population to increase, but on the other hand say that we want a metro system", he said.

Firstly, there are cities around the world with smaller populations that have metro systems. Secondly, nowhere has government indicated that the Maltese have a choice in the rising population numbers. In fact, just recently, the head of JobsPlus said that Malta requires 10,000 new foreign workers each year to keep up with Malta's economy. The government has marketed itself as being very pro-business, and the Planning Authority has not really shown much capability for standing up to major developments, which would cause severe congestion in areas, as well as overpopulation.


Now Muscat has said that a shift from having planning guidelines towards having set planning rules instead is the direction that the government should be taking in the next few years, however, let's be honest, how successful has any government been when it came to setting up planning regulations? The Fuel Station policy is one that immediately comes to mind.

With regards to the system requiring a tax rise, as Muscat said, that would most likely be the case if government goes through with the project purely as a state-funded project. But the government has implemented one public-private partnership after another over the last years. So this statement would require further studies given that a subsidy would, most likely be required.

Muscat also spoke about the Gozo tunnel, saying the decision to exclude an integrated metro system is an example of the government's decision to choose a direction; "we asked what the critical mass needed for a metro to Gozo, and we were told that for the metro to be feasible we needed to turn the island into another Sliema or St Julian's.  Do we really want that?" Muscat is still building a tunnel to Gozo, and, as such development will, undoubtedly, spread to Malta's sister island. It is already happening and it will only get worse once the tunnel is completed.

So, in view of this scenario, why does the government not go for a tunnel with an integrated metro system, in preparation for the future?

Muscat has also noted that the top priority now is to have a decent road network, which could serve as the foundation for any decent structure of transportation. At the same time, quoting a two-year-old study, he said that an underground metro cannot be built all over the country; there would need to be a "mix and match" between over-ground and underground lines.

As such, the government knew that some overground lines would be required, yet has decided to spend €700 million doing up Malta's roads, and using more funds widening old ones, while not considering the inclusion of any rail system.

It would have made far more sense for government to decide concretely, whether to include such a rail system prior to commencing so many projects, including those at Kappara and Marsa. As things stand, if Malta does opt to go for a rail system, one would need to ask whether further works to major junctions would be needed.

Is the PM saying that, with the ever growing economy and all the foreign workers coming to Malta, we would not have enough funds to sustain a metro that is becoming increasingly necessary due to the same growth?

Is he saying that taxes will be increased when the second half of last year actually saw the average wage per hour decrease, yet congestion is still a major problem on the island?

How long will the widened roads be sufficient if Malta continues to require 10,000 new foreign workers per year?

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