The Malta Independent 26 February 2024, Monday
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TMID Editorial: Time to prioritise sustainable transport

Monday, 27 November 2023, 12:24 Last update: about 4 months ago

Sunday happened to be the World Sustainable Transport Day - a day declared by the United Nations General Assembly back in May which is dedicated the strengthening of sustainable transport and of calls for the education of people worldwide about transport issues.

It is certainly a day which should be given heed in Malta, for the country's traffic problems are no better today than they ever were - quite the opposite, really; they are worse.

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Despite a €700 million investment in new infrastructure Malta's roads are still saturated with traffic and are on the teetering edge of total blockage. 

The organisation of a major event like the recent SiGMA conference which caused a disruption to the routine traffic patterns and, by extension, left half the country in traffic gridlock shows that Malta's roads infrastructure remains very fragile.

It's not just SiGMA: something as simple as rainfall, or a traffic accident can cause hundreds of metres of traffic jams, leaving people sitting frustratedly in their cars.

And yet, the sheer number of cars on Malta's roads continues to increase: At the end of September 2023, the stock of licensed motor vehicles stood at 436,007, of which 73.9 per cent were passenger cars, as per the most recent National Statistics Office data available.

During the third quarter of 2023, the stock of licensed motor vehicles increased at a net average rate of 43 motor vehicles per day.

This same set of data shows that there have been significant increases registered in plug-in hybrid (diesel-electric), electric and combined (diesel-LPG) motor vehicles, but the fact remains that - while far more sustainable and environmentally friendly than their purely fossil-fuel powered counterparts, remain what they are: vehicles which take up road space.

Malta is practically at a point where roads cannot be widened further.  Space was already at a premium, and now the little space that there was has been used up, to very little reprieve.

A study to connect Malta's "scattered" cycling network and create a National Cycling Route Network as one of the 31 measures making up a new National Cycling Strategy which is currently open for public consultation in preparation for a full unveiling towards the end of this year or the start of 2024 is a good step in the right direction.

However, this National Cycling Strategy has been on the cards in various formats since as far back as November 2018.  That first version had 45 measures, but activists derided it as being very clearly written by someone who does not cycle.

It seems to have been shelved from then on, only to be resurrected now - six years later. 

That is six years of lost time: six years where a modal shift with the correct infrastructure could have begun and been emphasised.  Quite the opposite, instead, Malta has lost more and more transport systems which aim to reduce the number of cars in the road: bicycle rental services such as NextBike, car-sharing services such as GoTo, and soon scooter services such as Bolt have been consigned to history.

The time to prioritise a shift away from cars was probably around five or ten years ago; each day which passes now is a day wasted.

 


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