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.
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…….