The government is conducting a study to determine the long-term feasibility of a metro, Transport Minister Aaron Farrugia told parliament on Monday.

The €100,000 study is being carried out by Transport Malta and the minister vouched to go public with the results before a decision is taken on whether the government moves ahead with the project.

Farrugia was speaking during the budget debate on the transport ministry after PN MPs Adrian Delia and Ryan Callus accused him of failing to deliver on the mass transportation promise that was “revealed so pompously” last year.

The minister defended the budget’s lack of detail about the metro, saying the process is “totally transparent”.

“Of course it’s not in the budget,” he fired back.

“That’s because right now we’re studying the project’s financial feasibility. We have studies that show it can be done technically and we know how much it will cost, but now we need to determine whether its economic model is feasible. Once I have those numbers, I will come before the people, tell them how much it will cost us and we’ll then decide whether to move on with the project.”

A little over a year ago, the government unveiled plans for a €6.2 billion, three-line underground metro system with 25 stations, covering a total of 35 kilometers of track, running from BuÄĦibba to Pembroke, Birkirkara to Valletta and Mater Dei to Cospicua.

The plans were exhibited in a large tent set up in Triton Square. But the project was barely mentioned in the budget speech last month.

“I remember being in Valletta, near the tent with a big sign saying ‘Metro’, when a tourist walked up to me asking if that was the metro station,” PN MP and Infrastructure Shadow Minister Ryan Callus said in his speech to parliament on Monday.

“I told him to give it a try and waited for him outside. When he came out again he was surprised it was just an exhibition.”

Government failing to tackle traffic congestion

Transport Shadow Minister Adrian Delia also hit out at the government, accusing it of failing to reduce traffic congestion and for not doing enough to tackle the record amount of road accidents and fatalities.

He said the situation was even more concerning given that it had been alleged in court that officials at Transport Malta, which he rebranded as “Scandal Malta”, were ordering examiners to pass certain driving test candidates after instructions from a ministry or from Castille.

Traffic - whose fault is it?

The debate centered mainly around traffic congestion and the increasing amount of vehicles on the roads, with the Opposition blaming the government for not doing enough and Labour MPs saying PN was “all talk and no actions” and repeatedly reminding them of the chaos that ensued on the roads following the beginning of the Arriva service and the introduction of bendy buses in 2012.

Minister Aaron Farrugia and Labour MP Omar Farrugia said the current traffic congestion was mostly due to astonishing economic prosperity and people’s inability to ditch the comfort of their private cars.

“The government’s economic vision allowed people to earn more money, and get more free services. Average salaries increased and we witnessed a wave of economic progress, which allowed many families to move up the social ladder and be able to afford their first, or even second, car,” Omar Farrugia said, adding that even young people and the elderly are more well-off and afford to use their car, and growing businesses naturally needed more vehicles to deliver their goods.

"We are addicted to our cars"

“The truth is we all love our car, with the AC, personal space and comfort. Are we ready to ditch that in favour of the environment and sustainability? It’s easy to speak about traffic congestion and air pollution, but are we ready to accept that we have an addiction to our private cars, so much so that we aren’t considering other options?”

Farrugia said the first step was to recognise problem – that each one of us walks out of the door every morning with the car keys in their hands,” he said.

Economic growth that not even the government predicted

“People in cars want less cars and less traffic – that’s the paradox of the moment,” minister Aaron Farrugia said.

“But we understand the calls to action and we are acting.”

Farrugia said traffic congestion was partly due to the astonishing and unexpected stronger than expected economic growth and prosperity that even the Labour government itself failed to predict.

“We outperformed our own projections. The truth is the country wasn’t prepared for the economic growth it witnessed,” he said.

“We are now expecting our economy to grow even further – up to six, or even nine times the average European rate. Economic success brought about challenges we did not expect.”

He went on to explain that traffic was a problem everywhere, not just in Malta, and that it was not a new problem. He read out headlines from news articles reporting traffic chaos in Rome, Dublin, Paris, Milan, Madrid, Barcelona, London and Brussels, saying all the cities are struggling with greater congestion after the relatively quiet pandemic period.

He also read out old news headlines from Maltese newspapers, arguing that the problem has been persisting for years.

“This doesn’t mean we lose hope or stop trying. But it’s a problem everywhere,” he said.

He said the government was exploring the possibility of tapping into EU funds to introduce artificially intelligent traffic management systems and he vowed to double down on enforcement, which he said was still lacking.

He reiterated the government’s pledge to incentivise more electric car ownership, introduce more electric buses, and engage in educational programmes for children in schools.

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