Addressing traffic congestion
Agreed, there are various pressing issues on the national agenda – and the daily heavy traffic congestion is one of them. The negative impact as a result of the daily traffic jams should be of concern to all.
The various proposals, including those floated by the Nationalist Party, should be looked into, considered and feasibility studies commissioned. There is no shame in the current administration taking on board proposals from other interested quarters including, but not exclusively, from the Opposition. It is time to look for short-term solutions to ease the heavy traffic congestion which motorists have to bear on a daily basis, until an efficient viable public transport system is in place and running smoothly.
Over the past fifty/sixty years, Malta has achieved economic and social success on many fronts. But Malta’s economic and social successes have also created new challenges, which were not always addressed adequately. The traffic congestion is partly caused by our own economic success.
In the past three/four decades, the traditional model of the families changed. With more females entering the labour market, the second car became a necessity in most families, not least to take children attending various extra-curricular activities after schooling hours.
Concurrently, Malta went through an intense restructuring process, where thousands of low-skilled jobs were substituted with more valueadded and lucrative employment opportunities. With increased income at their disposal, more people sought to purchase a car and abandon public transport completely, which was not responding adequately to the needs of a modern society.
Currently, only the privileged few go through heavy traffic congestion by the sound of police motorcycle sirens. Mind you, that is the way it should be. But then it is also their responsibility to take all reasonable measures to address an issue which is impacting negatively on people’s quality of life. And no one begrudges the fact that, similarly, ambulances, fire-engines and police vehicles also have the privilege to overtake and command a right of way even in heavy traffic congestion. After all, their mission is to respond to emergencies.
Indeed, Joe Mizzi, Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, is perfectly right in counselling people to leave early from home to their destinations and use the ferry from Cottonera to Valletta to avoid traffic jams, since there is no magic wand to make cars vanish from our heavily congested roads. But there are a wide range of proposals which can combat traffic congestions. Some may be expensive to implement in the short term, but viable in the long term. Doing close to nothing is certainly not an option.
Here I take the liberty to make some proposals which, if properly implemented, should ease traffic congestion, restore competitiveness, reduce fuel consumption, cut on costs to fill the fuel tank, lessen the loss of time and delays, limit the polluted air we breathe and reduce stress.
So far, most of the long-term proposals floated will cost the taxpayer millions of euro and, by our traditional standards, projects are hardly ever finished within the promised deadlines. Here are some suggestions:
Public transport is free of charge during rush hours.
Families owning two cars should be encouraged to use one car. In return, no licence fees are paid for both cars, if one is not in use. This can perhaps be implemented on a monthly basis. The use of information technology should facilitate this proposal.
Major road works in nonresidential areas is undertaken during all hours of the day, including the silent hours.
Landscaping and watering of plants in public spaces and roundabouts is done during the silent hours.
Garbage collection is done during the silent hours.
A troop of wardens and police officers are positioned at crucial bottlenecks on arterial roads to assist and direct motorists during rush hours.
Other road works are not carried done during the early morning or evening rush hours unless in an emergency.
Private companies are encouraged to offer transport to their employees; in return, companies providing this service receive a yearly tax rebate equivalent to the cost incurred.
Government authorities and public entities employees, and civil servants receive free public transport tickets.
Workers opting to pool for taxi service to and back from are refunded in cash to the amount of half of the yearly expenditure incurred.
Students pooling to and from their institution receive an allowance in addition to their stipend.
All proposals should come into effect for a defined period of time and will be withdrawn once a long-term traffic strategy is agreed upon, and is up and running.
No doubt, there is a monetary outlay to each of the proposals above. However, no cosmetic measures will address the problem of traffic congestion. Taking the necessary measures without further delay will work out cheaper in the long term and restore Malta’s competitiveness.
And perhaps save some souls too!
The Malta Independent Tuesday 11 October 2016