The Malta Independent 19 April 2024, Friday
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Gozo: Embracing the Easter spirit

Emmanuel J. Galea Sunday, 31 March 2024, 08:00 Last update: about 19 days ago

Today is Easter and most of us in Gozo have no other plans than to enjoy the day peacefully. Most of our Maltese friends maybe have gone through a waiting ordeal coming to Gozo as the Gozo Channel is operating with three ferries. The MV Nikolaos is still undergoing maintenance. So, most probably depending on the time of day which commuters planned, their visit to Gozo may have resulted in about a two-hour delay.

That is not all. The same ordeal may repeat itself this Sunday evening. If you take the advice of the Gozo Channel chairperson and not board the ferry between 5 to 8pm, then your day may be longer and the night shorter.

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There may be adventurous commuters who decide to board the ferry in the early hours of the morning, but again, this depends on courageous individuals, not families, who will spoil the time they enjoyed in Gozo with another negative experience.

But we knew when Easter was coming and we knew the Gozo channel fleet will be operating with three vessels. The schedule, although on a shuttle service and the weather has been kind, delays are inevitable.

Gozo Channel should have a contingency plan to provide a shuttle service supported by an extra vessel to cover the flow of commuters to Gozo. Yes, this is a sacrifice as I am sure that several commuters whose visit to Gozo is not regular or who have not yet appreciated Gozo’s beauty may assert that the tunnel would have spared them all this hassle.

But how is it there is not a solution to the problem which has been snowballing through the years? It’s difficult and complicated to sort out, but not impossible. We know commuters and vehicles are increasing every year. Trying to convince commuters to leave their vehicle behind is a nonstarter. It is like the public transport, although it is free, it did not attract more commuters, ditching their vehicles to opt for public transport.

The volume of commuters, including vehicles crossing over to Gozo, is increasing yearly at 13%. In 2023, more than a million vehicles crossed over to Gozo, obviously another million crossed to Cirkewwa. So imagine the Gozo Channel fleet had to cater for 2 million vehicles yearly.

The sign was crystal clear years ago that something had to be done. In order that Gozo had to remain attractive and unique in its characteristics, sacrifices were needed from both ends. Forget the tunnel, which in the end would have meant the destruction of Gozo’s uniqueness, but the increasing volume of vehicles crossing over to Gozo had to be given urgent consideration. It is really frustrating and self-defeating coming for a relaxing stay in Gozo and then ruin all that feel-good factor with a three hour wait in a car at least hopefully in fine weather.

The situation is that information through the National Statistics Office (NSO) shows that the heaviest days of traffic flow from Ċirkewwa are Fridays and Saturdays and from Mġarr are Sundays and Mondays. So considering these days, Friday to Monday, the ferry fleet is operating a shuttle service. For the rest of the week, excluding exceptions, certain ferries will be inoperative. It makes little sense having a fleet of six ferries to cater for the rush hours for four days and then have to man these same ferries during the rest of the week when the volume of commuters is below the threshold which a fleet of four ferries can handle adequately.

Those commuters who come to Gozo for a brief stay during the weekend have to go back with the easiest and simplest hassle free service. Here, there is no other option that the private sector has to be roped in and cover the extra demand during these weekend breaks.

So where does the buck stop? Gozo Channel service is still a monopoly, ignoring EU directives. So the Gozo Channel and the Ministry concerned have to pull up their socks and sort out the mess they created themselves.

Why is it that a humble writer is racking his brains to sort out this problem while those responsible who are receiving taxpayers’ money to do their work are doing nothing? I have to be blunt: what are the Gozo Channel Board members doing? Behaving like lame ducks, who cannot at least utter the word quack? Yes, they don’t care as these and many more are the privileged, anointed ones who have a priority pass and can board the ferry at any time of day they choose.

Is this fair to those who preferred to come to Gozo, purchase, rent property or, even worse, a day visitor who planned to visit Gozo at 9am in the morning and reach Gozo two hours later? Goes to Dwejra or Citadel for a quick visit. Then proceed for a lunch but already contemplating how to return to Malta maybe early before 5pm or late after 8pm same day. Such an exciting experience of an island once promoted as ‘the island where time stands still’!

Is it we are suffocating the goose that lays the golden eggs or are we over feeding it to lay more eggs?

Which ever way we consider it, there is something really skewed and, irrespective of our cries, for ‘quality not quantity’, we are not in position to do anything. The issue is totally out of our control and the decision makers are the Prime Minister, the Gozo Minister and the MPs elected to represent Gozitans who are doing nothing less than seeking their own narcistic interests.

The issue is that Gozitans are blindfolded and are not being led by leaders but by opportunists. Gozitans think they are powerful because they have a vote, but then they act as a dehydrated traveller in a desert under the scorching sun and dashes frantically at the sight of a stream of water ahead. He plunges with enthusiasm but strikes more sand – it was a mirage – that is the way Gozitans are going!

A peaceful Easter to everyone.

 

 

 

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