The Malta Independent 30 March 2023, Thursday
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TMID Editorial: 425,000 licensed vehicles

Wednesday, 25 January 2023, 11:22 Last update: about 3 months ago

425,000. That’s the number of vehicles licensed on Malta’s roads. This statistic was revealed by Transport Minister Aaron Farrugia in response to a Parliamentary question posed by PN MP Darren Carabott.

It is a particularly large number of vehicles for a country of our small size.

According to the latest statistics issued by the National Statistics Office, in the third quarter of 2022 there were 422,576 licensed motor vehicles, which shows that there has been a rise since then.


Indeed, the numbers have been rising steadily each quarter (in the first quarter of 2022 there were 414,669 licensed motor vehicles). That would mean that there are now 10,331 more licensed vehicles than there were in the country at the beginning of 2022.

The country cannot continue like this. It’s just too many vehicles, and at this rate one wonders just for how long the government’s road widening projects will be effective for. Many have long argued that road widening is a temporary solution. We need to change things now. We need effective public transport which people would willingly choose to use over their private vehicles.

Yes, making public transport free saw an increase in usage. In December, Transport Minister Aaron Farrugia said that public transport use had increased by around 15% from the previous month. But this is, very clearly, not enough.

According to the findings of a survey on bus services in Malta, the public would consider using buses more often if these became more reliable, particularly by being more punctual, having more express trips and increased frequency, the Association for Consumer Rights - Malta said. "Many survey respondents said they would also trust the bus service more if the waiting time for a bus to arrive is correctly shown on Tal-Linja app and on the digital display at bus stops,” the association had said. "While close to 70% said they are not ready to use the buses more often just because they are now free of charge.  Public commuters' reluctance to use public buses is however not immutable."  Over 90% of respondents said they would like more express minibus services with quick trips to destination, the association said. "However, about half of these respondents added that they will only use express minibus services if these prove to be punctual and reliable."

As seen above, there are things that can be fixed to at least entice a few more people to start using the bus service.

But in order to make a drastic change then a mentality shift is needed.

During an interview with The Malta Independent on Sunday, the Chairperson of the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development (MCESD) David Xuereb spoke about a meeting that the Civil Society Committee (CSC) within MCESD held with the Transport Ministry, to discuss proposals for the improvement of transport in the country. Xuereb told this newsroom that priority bus lanes should be a serious consideration. "If a trip from Naxxar to Valletta would take 30 minutes because of traffic, maybe we can consider having dedicated bus lanes that would see buses reach their destination in the shortest period of time... but yes it could also mean that people driving their private car might take longer. That would discriminate in favour of people using public transport over those who use their private car."

"We could also look at logistics. If we manage to avoid having trucks carrying concrete, groceries, etc. out on the roads during peak hours, it may offer tangible solutions to the current state of affairs," Xuereb said.

Transport Minister Aaron Farrugia has outlined how the government wants to tackle the issue. He was being interviewed by The Times of Malta, which reported that government workers reporting for duty at different hours of the morning, deliveries of goods at night and hospital outpatient appointments scheduled throughout the day are all part of the Transport Minister’s plan to reduce the amount of traffic on Malta’s roads.

Some of the suggestions could be controversial, but merit discussion.

They could provide a brief fix while the country works on the main issue, reducing car dependence.

The minister himself said that people will not switch to public transport until it is efficient and on time.

He said that more buses will be added to the fleet soon and routes will be revised. This is an important step and will, hopefully, help. But he also recognises that buses would still get stuck in traffic. Farrugia mentioned wanting to open a discussion to add more bus lanes, possibly starting out slow just on Sundays. The minister outright declined some ideas, and said, for instance, that the government would not introduce a tax on car use.

If we continue to increase the number of vehicles on our road, we’re going to end up with more and more massive jams. We already experience the headache that traffic brings during peak hours. But if we don’t do something to tackle this issue, and soon, then we would likely be shooting ourselves in the foot. We need to make public transport more attractive. It is unlikely that this would be achievable without inconveniencing private vehicle users. The hard part will be finding a way to do it by causing the least inconvenience, while at the same time enticing people to use their private cars less.

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