“Transport is an essential part of our daily life,” says Transport Minister Joe Mizzi. “Today, 20 per cent of households have more than three cars. Malta has one of the highest population densities in the world and the size of the island is comparable to a medium-sized city. In view of this, traffic has been increasing by 2.3 per cent p.a. since 1990,” Minister Mizzi affirms.
It has been reported that traffic is costing the Maltese economy €200 million in GDP a year and this will increase to €1.2 billion by 2050 unless current policies are changed. From a business point of view, Malta Chamber Director General Kevin J. Borg warns that the inefficiency of Malta’s transportation infrastructure and the severe traffic congestion is resulting in lack of productivity and a socio-economic cost which is bound to increase as the problem becomes exponentially larger.
“The Chamber is highly disappointed that the last Budget included very little incentives to address this growing problem, especially after Transport Malta’s recent launch of the National Transport Strategy and Masterplan, which the Chamber welcomed. The Chamber expected the Budget to contain a plethora of measures that aim to alleviate traffic congestion and enhance the island’s transport infrastructure,” the Director General continues.
Asked what he feels the primary factors contributing to the traffic situation are, Minister Mizzi lists the public transport system, which up until three years ago, he says, did not meet the needs of patrons. “As a result, public transport patronage decreased drastically. Apart from that, we cannot ignore the fact that the private car is like a status symbol,” he continues, arguing that many people enjoy driving and are dependent on their cars, even in a scenario where the public transport system works perfectly well.
Moving on to the country’s infrastructure, the Transport Minister explains that the road infrastructure footprint has not changed much over the past 28 years – meaning the road network today is basically the same as it was 28 years ago. “As traffic volumes increased drastically during the past three decades, the road infrastructure did not expand accordingly to meet the increase in demand,” he says.
So what is currently being done to tackle the situation? Minister Mizzi maintains that in recent years, Transport Malta has been modifying and improving junctions to maximise the capacity within our limited infrastructure. “During the past two years, Transport Malta was the main driver behind the complete revamp of the public transport service, which, under new company Malta Public Transport, registered an unprecedented 24 per cent increase in bus patronage. The Authority also embarked on an Intelligent Traffic Management System which implements intelligent infrastructure in Malta,” he says, going on to list the re-building of the Coast Road and ongoing works on the Kappara junction project.
“The Chamber is of the opinion that Malta’s transportation infrastructure needs major investments. In order to build the safest, most effective and sustainable multimodal transportation system, the country needs a new strategy based on an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable plan. This plan must involve the private sector through Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) or other joint ventures from inception, and most importantly, it must form part of a long-term vision for the country’s transport needs,” adds Mr Borg, meanwhile.
Bringing a European perspective to bear on the situation, Malta Business Bureau CEO Joe Tanti reveals that traffic congestion in Europe is estimated to cost the EU a whopping €80 billion annually. “50 per cent of all Europeans still commute by car each day. In recent years however, several European countries have started analysing various approaches and identifying best practices in urban planning,” he maintains.
Mr Tanti goes on to state that all over Europe, one can see significant efforts being made to relieve cities and regions of traffic issues. “Copenhagen is slowly becoming one of the biggest cycling regions in the world through the construction of a great network of cycle super highways to promote the use of bicycles as a primary means of transport. In Romania, we see successful sustainable mobility campaigns for students and teachers such as ‘I walk to school’. This has impacted citizens’ lives and has become part of the city’s sustainable energy action plan, drastically reducing carbon emissions.”
Deliberating on whether Malta can build on similar examples, the Malta Business Bureau CEO considers that while building cycle super highways may be a longshot for Malta, car free town centres might be a solution worth exploring. “We can look towards Oslo in Norway, now the electric vehicle capital of the world… This was made possible by forming a strategic alliance between the government, academia and the private sector who collaborated to design and manage the electrical vehicle programme at national level. If we can extract these best practices and customise them to accommodate the situation in Malta, there is a greater possibility of success in solving the current issue,” he affirms.
Last year, Transport Malta released its National Transport Strategy 2050 and Transport Masterplan 2025, which have been approved by the European Commission. “The Master Plan lists a series of infrastructure interventions that will be implemented over the coming years. It presents a robust strategy to improve roads, build new ones and give incentives for people to use public transport. It also sets out to prioritise transport infrastructure investment, focusing on the removal of the most critical traffic bottlenecks on Malta’s strategic TEN-T network, where national, EU and private funding could be most effectively targeted over the next 10 years,” Minister Mizzi explains.
“A significant portion of the Transport Master Plan tackles sustainable mobility, for which a comprehensive list of measures has been identified with the aim to encourage greater use of alternative, more sustainable modes of transport (buses, cycling and walking) instead of the private car. The document outlines a detailed plan to ensure a sustainable transport system for the coming years,” he continues.
Meanwhile, at an EU conference last March, Minister Mizzi also maintained that Government will be studying the option of introducing urban rail systems in the near future, explaining that, unlike larger countries, Malta does do not have the luxury or space to build new road bypasses to alleviate traffic bottlenecks. Referring to Government’s plan to better manage travel demand and bring about a modal shift from cars to public transport, he says, “the introduction of urban rail systems could, quite conceivably, be the next stage in this modal shift policy.”
Speaking of the Strategy and Masterplan, the Malta Chamber Director General posits that while the Chamber welcomes the plan, it enquires on how the vast majority of the proposed measures and projects will be financed. “The Chamber believes that the financing of transport projects should include further involvement of the private sector through PPPs or joint ventures. The Chamber also recommended that Government invests part of the proceeds of the new ‘sovereign’ fund created through the Malta Citizenship by Investment (IIP) scheme in transport infrastructure to alleviate the cost of traffic on the productive sectors,” he says.
This is a snippet. Read the full feature on the latest issue of the Commercial Courier.