Trans­port and the bud­get

The Fi­nance Min­is­ter is ap­par­ently de­lighted that, dur­ing the past year, over 40 mil­lion pas­sen­gers made use of pub­lic trans­port. While this rep­re­sents a seven per cent in­crease on the pre­vi­ous year, it could have been much more had the gov­ern­ment not was

Malta Independent - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -

An ar­chi­tect and civil en­gi­neer, the au­thor is deputy chair­man of Al­ter­nat­tiva Demokratika – The Green Party in Malta. ca­co­par­do­carm@gmail.com, www.carmel­ca­co­pardo.word­press.com

When the road net­work is im­proved, traf­fic con­ges­tion eases tem­po­rar­ily and, as a re­sult, more cars take to the roads. This in turn leads to more traf­fic con­ges­tion – a di­rect re­sult of gov­ern­ment in­vest­ment. Trans­port pol­icy-mak­ers have yet to re­alise that rather than im­prove the road net­work, they should in­crease ex­po­nen­tially ini­tia­tives to re­duce the num­ber of cars on our roads. It is in this area that ma­jor in­vest­ment is re­quired.

The gov­ern­ment has de­cided to make a slow start in this area by an­nounc­ing two ini­tia­tives to en­cour­age group trans­port in re­la­tion to work­ing places. The pri­vate sec­tor is be­ing en­cour­aged to pro­vide this through tax cred­its, whilst gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties em­ploy­ing more than 50 peo­ple have been in­structed to pre­pare a sus­tain­able trans­port plan. This is a be­lated slow start to ad­dress­ing traf­fic con­ges­tion, which is re­lated to peo­ple go­ing to work us­ing their own trans­port. The gov­ern­ment has opted to use the car­rot rather than the stick. Most prob­a­bly, in the long term there is both the room and the need to use both.

A to­ken in­cen­tive of free pub­lic trans­port for five thou­sand 18-year-olds who will reach that age in 2017 will do no harm. It could, how­ever, have been pre­sented in a more in­no­va­tive man­ner – link­ing a longer pe­riod of free pub­lic trans­port with bi­cy­cle in­cen­tives as well as an un­der­tak­ing from re­cip­i­ents not to seek a driv­ing li­cence for at least 10 years. Now that would be an in­vest­ment which would re­duce the num­ber of cars on the road in the long term!

All ini­tia­tives that seek to en­cour­age the use of pub­lic trans­port are worth a try, as they are a step in the right di­rec­tion. It is, how­ever, nec­es­sary that more in­vest­ment in al­ter­na­tive and sus­tain­able means of trans­port is forth­com­ing, pri­mar­ily in set­ting up the re­quired ba­sic in­fra­struc­ture. For ex­am­ple, the in­fra­struc­ture re­quired to en­cour­age bi­cy­cle use is prac­ti­cally non-ex­is­tent. This needs to be ad­dressed ad­e­quately. A first step would be the sus­tain­able trans­port plans that the Fi­nance Min­is­ter is ex­pect­ing from gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties dur­ing 2017. I would ex­pect that, in 12 months time, these plans will start be­ing im­ple­mented be­cause gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties should be the first to set an ex­am­ple.

Most of our lo­cal­i­ties are a stone’s throw away from each other and this should make it much eas­ier to en­cour­age a re­duc­tion in de­pen­dence on the pri­vately-owned car. Ini­tia­tives can also be taken at a lo­cal level and be­tween neigh­bour­ing lo­cal­i­ties. In such in­stances, it can be much eas­ier to en­cour­age the use of bi­cy­cles. This would re­quire streets where ac­cess to cars is pro­hib­ited, such ac­cess be­ing re­served for bi­cy­cle users. In such in­stances school chil­dren, un­der su­per­vi­sion, could be en­cour­aged to go to school on bi­cy­cles, us­ing bi­cy­cle­friendly streets.

Ini­tia­tives at a lo­cal level add up over time and slowly con­trib­ute to the for­ma­tion of a bi­cy­cle-friendly so­ci­ety. Even in mat­ters of trans­port, na­tional prob­lems can be re­solved at the town and vil­lage level, even­tu­ally lead­ing to a so­lu­tion at na­tional level. This is a prac­ti­cal way of ap­ply­ing the en­vi­ron­men­tal maxim “think global, act lo­cal”.

The prob­lem of traf­fic con­ges­tion will not be re­solved by the con­struc­tion of a new gen­er­a­tion of fly­overs but by equip­ping our young gen­er­a­tions to chal­lenge the sta­tus quo.

It can be done.

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