If you commute by car, you are likely to have repeatedly circled the area around your home until you are resigned to squeeze the vehicle into awkward spots.

Over the years, the changing landscape of towns and villages has seen many homes transformed into apartment blocks, and as our new neighbours increase, the number of available parking spots decreases in tandem.

As cities across the world have started to levy a charge on cars for the privilege of occupying public land, the Maltese still expect free parking places as a given, without considering what they are giving up in the process, according to Maria Attard, the director for the Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development.

“There is a very high cost associated with free, unmanaged parking, primarily because like any free thing it gets abused, and the common good, like our public spaces, gets gobbled up by the parked cars of the few to the detriment of others,” she said.

Infrastructure for cars instead of people

While cars spend roughly 80 per cent of their time parked, dedicating so much space to parking has its consequences.

“Malta provides many examples of infrastructure that prioritises cars over people. The consistent removal of pedestrian walkways in our town centres to accommodate car speed and more parking is, in my opinion, the most offensive.

"The lack of parking management and effective pricing of car use, including parking, has allowed households to buy more cars than they can actually house within their property or beyond the capacity of their local area.

“The parking problem is a result of a policy that consistently prioritised cars over people with most urban roads designed to just accommodate parked cars.

"They look and feel unfriendly, dirty and in many cases unsafe. Walking infrastructure, where it exists, is not built to standard either because of space demands to park more cars or is built to allow for use by cars at the risk of injury for more vulnerable pedestrians.”

Photo: ShutterstockPhoto: Shutterstock

Attard, an urban transport expert who was involved in the implementation of road pricing, park and ride and pedestrianisation projects in Valletta, holds that paid street parking as a means of transport management could serve to trigger a change in mentality.

“Paid parking is not a radical transport management measure. It is well established in many parts of the world.”

Car parks instead of playgrounds

Bicycle Advocacy Group president Michelle Attard Tonna said more holistic and long-term plans need to be enacted to encourage more people to ditch the car and embrace alternative methods of transport.

People purchase cars and expect the council to provide a space for it

“The issue of parking used to be prevalent in locations like Valletta or Sliema but has now spread to practically every village,’’ she said.

“It’s very unfair to see authorities invest in public car spaces at the expense of allocating open spaces meant to be enjoyed by all.”

After the group fought to have an integrated bicycle lane included in the Marsa junction project, the area is still plagued by vehicles parked haphazardly.

“Areas in our schools that could be used as playgrounds are dedicated to teachers to park their cars. We’re still using old and obsolete methods of urban planning, because when you see cities overseas, it’s expensive for you to leave your car in a city centre, not because they don’t necessarily have the space, but to intentionally put a distance between cars and the city.

Introducing paid street parking would have to come with other options, especially since new taxes cannot be imposed on people who have no other means to travel.

“But I don’t think we should continue to feel entitled to parking spaces to the detriment of our open spaces.”

'There is not enough room for all the cars'

On the other hand, many continue campaigning for residents’ parking.

Anthony Chircop, mayor of Sliema, where parking remains a hot issue, said people in his locality are upset that residents’ parking has been overlooked, particularly since it worked well in other localities. A proposed parking scheme for Sliema had been vetoed by the central government in 2013.

“I think the thought of even mentioning paid parking as an idea would not go down very well here at all.

“But I think something has to change. People purchase cars and expect the council to provide a space for it, while we read reports that private parking garages remain empty. There is simply not enough room to accommodate all the cars.”

He says a culture change is needed and more assurances given to start convincing people to give up their private cars.

“In many ways, Sliema is really the ideal place to live if you do not have a car, because everything is accessible within a short distance. The council even introduced a limited but free cab service for residents to travel around Sliema.

“Having safer, better and convenient public transport would certainly contribute to the idea that you need a car ‘in case of emergencies’. If we can improve such networks it would go some way in removing our dependency on cars.”

Just over 50 per cent of those responding to a Times of Malta online poll as of Sunday afternoon said they want parking to remain free, but a third believe residents should be prioritised.

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