Con­struc­tion and de­liv­ery: Malta’s traf­fic bug­bears

Mid­way up Savoy Hill, the bus slowly came to a stop. The driver’s back did not al­low me any view of what was go­ing on fur­ther up.

Malta Independent - - NEWS - Charles Caru­ana Carabez Charles Caru­ana Carabez sits on the Na­tional Com­mis­sion for Fur­ther and Higher Ed­u­ca­tion

The woman next to me breathed out au­di­bly in dis­gust. We had spent fif­teen min­utes get­ting to Savoy Hill from near the old Em­pire Sta­dium, and it wasn’t be­cause of the pre­dictable traf­fic lights. It was be­cause of a mo­bile crane and a con­crete mixer just be­yond them.

The war­dens were hard put to al­low both Gżira-bound and Msida-bound traf­fic some pas­sage by al­ter­nat­ing ac­cess. I started to think that we were fac­ing the same sit­u­a­tion all over again, and five min­utes later my sus­pi­cion was proved cor­rect. It was an­other crane, with its legs ob­scenely splayed in the mid­dle of the nar­row road, half­way up the hill. A con­crete mixer stood wait­ing, omi­nously, like a vul­ture, on the other side of the road, its drum ro­tat­ing slowly.

No sooner had we cleared the brow of the hill that we came to an­other stop, just be­fore turn­ing onto Mra­bat Street. It was a large de­liv­ery van this time. Mra­bat it­self of­fered an­other four stops, de­liv­ery vans be­ing the cul­prits. A fif­teen-minute jour­ney had be­come a thirty minute as­sault on the nerves. All the pas­sen­gers were vis­i­bly ir­ri­tated. I was think­ing of the poor driver. He must be a men­tal wreck by the end of his stint, I thought.

On my next bus trip, I no­ticed how many build­ing per­mit no­tices were stuck to fa­cades along the route be­tween Msida and Mra­bat Street. Scores of them, each one await­ing its turn to pinch the road artery and cause traf­fic em­bolism. The Gżira stretch at Rue d’Ar­gens is go­ing to be re­built, house by house. First you’ll get the de­mo­li­tion gangs, with their huge me­chan­i­cal shov­els and their mam­moth trucks, and then the builders would fol­low, with their cranes and trucks and con­crete mix­ers.

Lately, a new prob­lem has ap­peared in my life. I use my car to go shop­ping, be­cause some loads are be­yond me on foot. The cor­ner mini-mar­ket which I pa­tron­ize has just be­come in­ac­ces­si­ble. The park­ing space one would have found be­fore on ei­ther side of the street has been taken over by de­liv­ery vans, and don’t you dare think you can pounce on a space when a van leaves, be­cause an­other van does that faster than you. I have had to go back home, rather sheep­ishly telling my wife I would try again later, quite a few times these last weeks. How ironic: the mini-mar­ket owner does his best to keep his shop fully stocked, only for some cus­tomers be­ing un­able to stop and buy pre­cisely be­cause re-stock­ing swal­lows all the park­ing. Such is the mad­ness of mod­ern life

De­liv­ery van driv­ers are not known to ob­serve any rules. The mid­dle of the road is as good a place to park as any; leav­ing half the van jut­ting out of a cor­ner is not a prob­lem. Dou­ble-parked clients, who can only leave when the de­liv­er­ers do, is par for the course. De­liver they will, and noth­ing shall de­ter this de­ter­mined lot. They have the gritty stuff of the pony ex­press men, or the early bi­plane mail de­liv­er­ers.

Their driv­ing, too, is of­ten well below the stan­dards of safety. They drive large ve­hi­cles as though they were gokarts, in a mad rush to reach and ser­vice all the shops on their list. You get the feel­ing that these peo­ple are rac­ing against time. A chap I know got knocked to the ground by a de­liv­ery man open­ing the back door of his van with­out look­ing; the poor man just walked straight into it. Some­times their driv­ing an­tics cause spillage of contents, lit­ter­ing roads with mer­chan­dise and caus­ing traf­fic prob­lems. My daily (and ut­terly fu­tile) prayer is to be de­liv­ered from the de­liv­er­ers.

So con­struc­tion and de­liv­ery ve­hi­cles, I think, are ma­jor causes of local traf­fic woes, but what can be done about that? Noth­ing, noth­ing at all. They are signs of fre­netic eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity, of money, to put it in a word. The labour­ers earn their liv­ing, the em­ploy­ers, be they im­porters or con­trac­tors, make their profit, and the con­sumers con­sume ever more hun­grily. It’s the econ­omy, stupid.

Mean­while, I think of the Minister of trans­port, and it is with the same pity I had felt for the bus driver. Per­son­ally, I would re­sign; be­ing Malta’s Minister of Trans­port surely must rank as one of the worst jobs in the world, be­cause you will al­ways get com­plaints, but never any sat­is­fac­tion. He’s like a blind man forced to solve Ru­bic’s cube prob­lem. Of course, when you start pity­ing politi­cians, you know that there must be some­thing aw­fully wrong with you. I tell my­self that what­ever is wrong with me, it is caused by the traf­fic…….

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