The Malta Independent 3 December 2021, Friday

Maximising the metro

Michael Briguglio Thursday, 14 October 2021, 07:50 Last update: about 3 months ago

The Labour Government’s metro proposal is a positive step forward in the quest for sustainable transport policy. At the same time, the Nationalist Opposition is (rightly) claiming that it had already proposed something similar in 2017.

Given that both major political parties are thus agreeing in principle on the matter, I hope that this leads to a more constructive policy process. For this to happen, government, opposition, but also social partners, civil society, experts, and local communities should do their part for proper deliberation.

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In this regard, ADPD - whilst articulating its preliminary views on the metro proposal - has requested the publication of studies before commenting further. In turn, the government has replied that all existing studies have been published. Whilst it is positive to note that the government has embarked on a public campaign to generate feedback on the proposal in question, proper consultation would require much more than that. Let us all hope that the proposal is not just an electoral show.

Hence, I recommend to the government to hold its brakes and embark on a multi-levelled ongoing consultation process which values public feedback and evidence-based policy making.  This would include both the publication of available studies and the commissioning of further studies, involving various fields, during the entire policy process. This would also require full transparency.  

As I have had the opportunity to comment in other articles in this newspaper, a key tool in this regard is the social impact assessment. This is not just a one-off survey, but an ongoing, peer-reviewed exercise, comprising various research methods and involving stakeholders such as experts, sectoral representatives, and local communities.

Such consultation will inevitably show that there are different views, interests, needs, and requirements in the designing, construction, and implementation of the Metro proposal. Here, I suggest that the concept of  'pragmatic adversarialism' proposed by fellow academics Ralph Tafon, David Howarth and Steven Griggs in the academic journal ‘Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space is operationalised. Its intention is that of “of achieving durable settlements that are legitimate and acceptable to affected citizens… a desirable mode of reaching workable agreements in public controversies”.

Hence, whilst the Metro proposal should have clear targets and deliverables, it should also be seen as a work-in-progress, where ongoing consultation and evidence can help devise the way forward.  Compromises and changes may have to be made, and decisions will at times involve tough choices. 

In the meantime, however, let us keep in mind that Malta has other sectors in the field of transport and mobility which deserve prioritisation, some in the very short term. The government’s road building programme may be responding to the growing demand for cars and the budgetary initiative to have free buses for all residents as from October 2022 is most welcome, though this sector requires further policy initiatives. It is equally imperative, for various reasons, that cycling, walking and other modes of transport – including those within the maritime field - receive the investment they deserve. Progress has been made in some areas, for example, in relation to some ferry services, but there is much to do elsewhere.

For example, I cannot help reiterating that pavements remain Malta’s policy cinderellas, in terms of safety, workmanship, maintenance, and accessibility, when they are a major point of mobility for so many persons with diverse backgrounds and realities. In the sociology of everyday life, the pavement is a basic symbol of how much value we give to people’s needs.

If anything, the metro proposal is a window of opportunity for mature dialogue in the national interest. The proposal affects present and future generations, so let’s all do our part to create a social pact for the best possible way forward. A golden rule for such a pact would be precisely to value deliberation above other sectarian or narrow interests.

Dr Michael Briguglio is a sociologist and senior lecturer at the University of Malta

www.michaelbriguglio.com

 

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