Commuters are rarely more than a 15-minute walk away from any given bus stop, new data looking into the distance between pick up points for public transport has found. 

Data analyst Charles Mercieca sought to look into how well served Malta is in terms of public transport by asking how far the nearest bus stop is from any given point in Malta, publishing his findings in a new blog post

Admitting that this did not take into account factors like the frequency of buses and efficiency of routes, Mercieca said that access to public transport is still important as it is tied to a number of elements, including the accessibility of healthcare, education and work opportunities, especially for people in lower socioeconomic groups. 

The locations of all the bus stops in Malta. Photo: Charles MerciecaThe locations of all the bus stops in Malta. Photo: Charles Mercieca

Using data from OpenStreetMap, a community-owned editable geographic database of the world, Mercieca plotted the location of all 2,060 bus stops in Malta and Gozo. 

He then went on to measure the distance between all the points generated in metres and pared it down to just the closest point from every point to the nearest bus stop. 

Using the data generated, and capping the limit to a distance of 2.8 kilometres, Mercieca used it to generate a heat map that gives a visual representation of how far the nearest bus stop is from any given point on the map. 

He found that, if you picked a random point in Malta, you’d be on average 340 meters away from a bus stop, while most places on the archipelago are under half a kilometre away.

The only places that exceeded the 2.8-kilometre capping distance were Comino and Filfla. 

A heat map measuring the distance between any point to the nearest bust stop. Photo: Charles MerciecaA heat map measuring the distance between any point to the nearest bust stop. Photo: Charles Mercieca

Assuming a walking speed of 5 km/hour, Mercieca also went on to convert the distance into the time it would take to walk to the nearest bust stop. 

“Strictly speaking, Comino and Fifla are incorrect because it would mean swimming at 5km/h as well, but you get the gist: you have to try pretty hard to be more than 15 minutes walking distance from a bus stop in Malta, and most of those locations are pretty near the coast like Ras Il-Qala, Armier or ta’ Cenc,” Mercieca said. 

A heat map showing the average time one would have to walk to reach the nearest bus stop at any given point of the archipelago. Photo: Charles MerciecaA heat map showing the average time one would have to walk to reach the nearest bus stop at any given point of the archipelago. Photo: Charles Mercieca

In an effort to reduce both the emissions generated by private cars as well as traffic congestion on Malta’s arterial roads, the government has been increasingly encouraging more people to travel by public transport. 

Public transport is currently free for those aged 14 to 20, students aged 21 and over, people with a disability and those over 70. In last October’s Budget Speech, Finance Minister Clyde Caruana announced that free public transport would be extended to all Maltese residents and Tallinja cardholders. 

However, experts have poured some cold water on the initiative, arguing that price is not the primary inhibitor holding people back from choosing public transport as their primary mode of transportation, but that service unreliability, schedule and route design have a large part to play in this. 

Other governments in Europe that have introduced free public transport projects have seen mixed results in trying to increase the number of commuters who choose public transport.

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