Car drivers’ role

Most people would agree that our road transport system is at a point of collapse. It only takes one accident to block an artery and our road network has a proverbial stroke.

Clearly, we cannot build flyovers and widen roads indefinitely. Nor prompt people to take the path of least resistance, and drive. Even a complete simpleton can see that.

Unfortunately, Malta’s oft-touted and only real uniqueness is that of a policy of “we will not disincentivise cars” and direct path to car ownership. This has resulted in an unprecedented rise in our private car modal share. At 84.6 per cent, this is equivalent to a large US metropolitan city, rather than a European one. Even the most car-centric European cities, with fewer than one million inhabitants, tend towards a 75 per cent modal share level. Many, for example similar-sized Dusseldorf, trend towards the mid-40s.

Malta is a long way from its 2030 target of 41 per cent and getting there is likely to be painful, for everyone.

Some months ago, a columnist cried foul at how car drivers were accused of being the cause of traffic, asking what else could they do? But, if not them, who can we expect to fix the problem?

Cyclists, at 0.7 per cent modal share, whose promised network keeps shrinking, now just half a per cent of the whole road network?

Pedestrians, at seven per cent modal share, despite longer trips, to less crossings? They are more likely to swap to driving than save it.

Neither a metro system. After all, that is at least 15 years away, although clearly mass transit is the only way left to go, with quick, massed results.

This is the most significant reason why the KTP proposal should go ahead, with the full backing of both parties, across the board. Not just for Msida, but nationally.

The emphasis on bus transit times and, importantly, improvements in bus headway are key. Yes, trees and parks are nice. They are far more befitting of a European city with a lower private car modal share, like Dusseldorf. More so than a flyover in a city centre more suited to Los Angeles. But, importantly, exploiting the opportunity to expand the rapid bus transit scheme, slowly reclaiming lanes on other dual carriageway roads, could be transformative. As bus speeds increase, fewer people will use cars, thus resulting in fewer car delays, not more.

It is a win-win opportunity as opposed to the no-win Kobayashi Maru situation that transport and shadow transport ministers face and have faced over the last decade. As car drivers fight each other tooth and nail over traffic jams and parking space, we can no longer rely on the altruism of pedestrians and cyclists; the change has to come from car drivers themselves.

JIM WIGHTMAN - St Julian’s

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