Last week, figures were released by the National Statistics Office which laid bare Malta’s obsession with the personal car.

According to the number-crunchers at the NSO, there are now more than 18,000 vehicles squeezed into every square kilometre of road in Malta – the smallest and most densely populated country in the EU.

Three in every four of these, around 14,000, are passenger vehicles – which is another way of saying personal and family cars. 

Other figures published, this time by the University of Malta, found that, despite increased awareness of global warming and the climate crisis, younger people and students are even more attached to their cars than their elders.

It is clear to see then that Malta and the Maltese are dependent on private cars as their primary means of transport and that this doesn’t seem to be changing.   

Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard all of this. Ten years ago, an EU-wide survey found that traffic congestion is a bigger headache for the Maltese than any other European citizen.

Since then, survey after survey has shown that traffic and mobility remain horn-honkingly present in Malta’s list of top concerns.     

Traffic, as we all too often say, is a nightmare.

A few years ago, a policy decision was taken to start throwing millions of euros at road projects. This addressed the infrastructural deficit that had persisted for several years. But it was not coupled with the necessary investment in support infrastructure for alternative means of transport.

And, although it was pointed out by academics and transport experts at the time that widening roads would simply invite more congestion, the policy decision to build roads had been taken and so build more roads we did.    

Today, that prediction has come true and, again, as a country, we find ourselves asking the question: how can we fix our transport system? 

Earlier this month, I was a guest at the Malta Sustainability Forum, where transport experts went through the gears of discussing this problem. 

A few days earlier, my brother, Matthew sat on another panel of transport thinkers, this time for an event organised by Times of Malta, on the same subject. 

Transport Minister Aaron Farrugia was also on that panel.  He had the unenviable role of being expected to say what he is going to do to curtail private car use in front of a packed audience that included representatives of some of the island’s major car importers. 

Reducing personal car use holds the potential to reduce the negative impacts of transport and unlock our urban spaces- Andrew Bezzina

Farrugia’s response? He is meeting stakeholders to update policy documents and decide what decisions need to be taken. 

The truth is, however, that we already know what decisions need to be taken. They are clearly defined in transport policy documents that have already been published.

In 2016, the National Transport Strategy for 2050 and Draft National Transport Plan 2025 were put out for public consultation. The goal, the 2050 strategy says, is to “reduce congestion through the increased use of other transportation modes”.

The document goes on to say that to do this we must “increase societal awareness on the need for sustainable travel choices”.

The solution this policy document is proposing is a concept known as multi-modality. As the name implies, the use of multiple modes of transport to get to your daily destinations.

It’s the belief that moving away from dependence on the private car by providing other reliable ways of getting from A to B can decongest our clogged urban spaces and make them better places to live.

This is a goal eCabs shares with cities around the world and with good reason. Because reducing personal car use holds the potential to reduce the negative impacts of transport and unlock our urban spaces.

From air pollution to traffic accidents and the vast amounts of space used for parking and new roads which, instead, could be used for gardens, parks and wide-open walkways.

To achieve this, we need policymakers to stop rewriting policy documents, which have already been written, and start implementing their recommendations. 

This kind of change, however, doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We also need to change the way we think about travel on a personal level. Integrating walking, cycling, ferries, scooters, buses and, yes, ride-hailing too, into our travel routines is the solution.

Ride-hailing is part of this solution. One car shared by 20 people in a day is 20 cars off the road.

Operating a fleet of ride-hailing vehicles and developing the tech that supports thousands of partner drivers in Malta and beyond has given me a unique point of view on embracing this shift.  

Across the globe countries and cities that have embraced multi-modality have gone on to reap the benefits of truly livable urban spaces. 

It can work here too. 

Andrew Bezzina is the CEO of eCabs Malta.

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