The Malta Independent 20 April 2024, Saturday
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Transport, climate neutrality and everyday mobility

Michael Briguglio Thursday, 28 April 2022, 10:30 Last update: about 3 years ago

In an article in the Malta Today earlier this week, Minister for Environment, Energy and Enterprise Miriam Dalli wrote about the ‘crucial role’ that electric vehicles (EVs) will play in the switch towards Malta’s carbon neutrality commitment by the end of 2050.

Minister Dalli stated that as of March 2022, Malta has 6,000 registered electric vehicles – an increase of 4,000 when compared to two years ago.  Various incentives for purchase and use of such vehicles were introduced in the process. According to Dalli, until recently, people were discouraged from purchasing EVs due to price and driving range, whilst today, a main concern is availability of adequate charging infrastructure.

In her article, Miriam Dalli said that “government is committed to a long-term, holistic vision on charging infrastructure addressing citizens and enterprises alike”, adding that “electric vehicles can and should be the way forward for Malta’s transport sector”.

Minister Dalli’s commitment towards EVs is commendable, and I believe that Malta can indeed keep improving in this regard. At the same time, however, I suggest that other policies within the transport sector are also given priority, both in relation to carbon neutrality, but also to move towards more accessible and sustainable localities. I appreciate that some of the areas in this regard fall under the responsibility of other Ministers, such as Aaron Farrugia (Transport) and Clyde Caruana (Finance), respectively.

In this regard, I wish to refer to an article by Kimberly Nicholas, Associate Professor of Sustainability Science, Lund University, which was published in ‘The Conversation’, a news portal based on expert scholarly input, on 14 April.

In this article, Nicholas reminds us that the second largest (and growing) source of climate pollution in Europe is the passenger car. She adds that whilst electric vehicles are necessary for the transition towards cleaner transport, other policy changes are also required to reach climate goals. Reasons for this include the fact that cars tend to remain on the road for a long time, thus slowing down the shift towards electric vehicles. With Malta having one of the oldest car fleets in Europe, this reason is particularly noteworthy. At the same time, even though electric cars do not emit from exhaust pipes, they still are responsible for pollution, for example from their wear and tear. Besides, the emissions saved from electric cars are often cancelled out by Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs), which, according to Prof Nicholas, “are causing a bigger increase in climate pollution than heavy industry” around the world. To this we should note Malta’s trend of importing second-hand cars, which often pollute more than their newer counterparts.  

Kimberly Nicholas refers to research which she carried out with Pauld Kuss at the Lund University for Sustainability Studies and published in ‘Case Studies on ‘Transport Policy’, which measures the effect of various initiatives to reduce urban car use whilst improving quality of life and people’s sustainable mobility.

Their study analyses 800 peer-reviewed studies throughout Europe published since 2010, and it consequently ranks the 12 most effective measures that European cities have introduced in recent decades, “based on real-world data on innovations ranging from the “carrot” of bike and walk-to-work schemes to the “stick” of removing free parking.”

The main conclusion of the research is that to “improve health outcomes, meet climate targets and create more liveable cities, reducing car use should be an urgent priority”.

For this to happen, a wide range of policy instruments are available. None of them alone can solve all the problems, thus requiring a policy-mix. This can comprise what is respectively defined as the ’12 best ways to reduce city car use’, namely Congestion charges; Parking and traffic controls; Limited traffic zones; Mobility services for commuters; Workplace parking charges; Workplace travel planning; University travel planning; Mobility services for universities; Car sharing; School travel planning; Personalised travel plans; and Apps for sustainable mobility. One can access more details on each policy through the respective article, which is available online.

Whilst Malta is already adopting some policies being referred to, much more needs to be done in other areas, especially since respective Maltese Governments have prioritised private car use over alternatives. It is also interesting to note that evidence clearly shows that local governments play a very important role in such policymaking.

Some policies referred to by Nicholas may be politically and socially controversial, and thus require proper deliberation. At the same time, Malta should increase efforts to incentivise work from home as well as using alternatives to the private car. Here, I cannot help emphasizing that pavements – prime symbols of everyday democracy -  have consistently been policy Cinderellas for decades, both in terms of quality and accessibility, rendering mobility very hard for many people. I find it beyond belief that our country cannot dedicate appropriate funding and enforce standards on this matter.

Hence, let us all do our part to have sustainable transport policy in terms of environmental, social and economic needs. As regards public consultation and deliberation, may I emphasize that the University of Malta is equipped with expertise in various fields related to transport policy, across various Faculties and disciplines.

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

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