The Malta Independent 17 May 2022, Tuesday

TMID Editorial: Popularising public transport

Tuesday, 25 January 2022, 08:55 Last update: about 5 months ago

Covid-19 has impacted mobility in the country and as a result, the number of passengers using public transport are low when compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Passenger numbers in 2021 amounted to 35.2 million, which is an increase on the 33.9 million passengers in 2020. However, this is still less than the 58.4 million passengers registered in 2019 and 53.4 million passengers registered in 2018. These statistics were sent by Malta Public Transport (MPT) to The Malta Independent in response to a number of questions.

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MPT highlighted that the pandemic impacted mobility in a number of ways. “Apart from the massive reduction in tourism, which had a huge impact on activity in general, many Covid-related measures have an impact on mobility in one way or another. Measures such as remote working, whether as a precaution or due to quarantine, reduce the need for people to travel. Restrictions on restaurants, entertainment spots and events also result in a drop in travel requirements. Likewise, limitations on visiting vulnerable friends and relatives in person also mean that people are travelling less. Thus as long as mobility is affected, it is understandable that bus passenger numbers will continue to be affected too,” a spokesperson said.

Once tourism picks up again we will undoubtedly see public transport passenger numbers rise. However certain effects of the pandemic, such as the now popular idea of remote working, could end up being here to stay.

But that is beside the point. The real issue that needs to be tackled is how to get more local people to use the bus service rather than their cars. After all, it is no secret that the Maltese love their cars.

So then, how can we go about changing that mentality?

Making public transport free for everyone, once that comes into play this year as per the promise made in the Budget, will be a good step in the right direction. But the question remains, will that be enough?

MPT mentioned, in response to questions, that: “In order to attract more passengers and even shift private car users to public transport, the bus service needs to become more attractive than private cars. This can be done by giving buses priority on the road, especially at intersections.”

“Simple enforcement measures could also make the bus service more attractive, since buses currently face many challenges. The amount of diversions, whether planned or not, vehicles blocking corners and vehicles parked on bus stops are just a few examples of the obstacles that severely affect the bus service to the detriment of the passengers,” MPT said.

When it comes to giving public transport priority, one would need to see how this can be done. Bus lanes were used in the past more than today and we all remember the negative reaction in the past to them being placed in certain areas, and the sheer amount of traffic they created in those zones. Their use in some locations has, however, not created problems. But, did they really cause a shift to public transport use? This is something which merits further study.

With regards for more swift and strict enforcement to vehicles blocking corners or parking where they shouldn’t, I think we can all agree on the need for this.

The government needs to take a serious look at the situation in Malta after making public transport free for the public, and if a large shift to public transport from locals is not seen, consider what other actions can be taken.

 

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