The mismanagement of the Coast Road development hit the headlines these past days. This is not a surprise, given that public concern on traffic has increased. This has much to do with the government’s underperformance in terms of policymaking and policy implementation in this field.
The hefty increase in traffic is due to various reasons. Among others, these include one’s ‘freedom’ when driving a car and the fact that the public transport system keeps failing to deliver.
When Transport Minister Joe Mizzi’s demonised everything Arriva, he raised public expectations on the new public transport operator. Government subsidy to private operators and bus fares increased too. Ultimately, this is backfiring because it does not seem that the increases have been matched by a better service.
The increase in traffic has also got to do with the government’s lack of awareness on the need for holistic planning and on the perils of overdeveloping. The proposed 38- and 40-storey towers just a few metres away from each other in Tigné, Sliema is a case in point.
The area is already over-congested with cars, yet, thousands more will result due to these developments and new parking spaces will only cover a small fraction of the resultant demand.
One can also refer to the situation faced by many local councils, which do not have enough financial means to carry out urgently-needed roadworks. Instead of resorting to a decentralised system, which enables the council to generate revenue to cover such costs, the government is over-centralising, thus reducing local councils to beggars at ministers’ whims. Such methods are more common in less democratic societies.
Bus lanes, commendable as they are, also fall in the category of mismanagement. A bus lane is not simply about painting markings on a road and fixing some signs. It is much more about proper education, implementation and enforcement.
Effective governance on transport is more urgent than ever
Taking the Sliema-Gżira bus lane as an example, one can unfortunately predict tragic accidents waiting to happen. At every time of the day, many irresponsible cowboy drivers speed along the bus lane to the dismay of pedestrians and bicycle users and to the anger of other drivers who observe traffic regulations.
Strict enforcement at random throughout all days of the week is required, together with more effective street lighting to enhance visibility.
Another area that is characterised by very poor enforcement is the pedestrians’ rights on pavements, especially along promenades. The number of vendors who are mushrooming, especially in tourist zones, is resulting in lack of walking space.
Apart from stalls, trailers, make-do rooms and so forth, pedestrians have to contend with signs, A-frames and other obstacles, sometimes even on ramps, which were designed for the access of persons with disability, parents with push chairs and the elderly.
Once again, it seems that centralisation is becoming the order of the day, wherein orders from ‘above’ are required to take concrete action.
I hope that the lack of enforcement in this matter is not related to some Malta tagħna lkoll electoral obligation.
The cherry on the cake on Malta’s transport matters must be the emissions from cars. I had the opportunity to write about this earlier this year, in the Times of Malta, on February 9, when I commented on the ridiculous under-enforcement with regard to emissions, according to official government statistics.
I do not envy Mizzi who is responsible for such a challenging ministry and I do empathise with the fact that problem solving takes time. However, I am sure that the minister can show some signs of hands-on implementation in various matters falling under his responsibility.
To begin with, enforcement should be stepped up in many areas. How about beginning by giving a genuine push to the SMS system where civic-minded citizens report cars thatg are over-emitting?
In a country which has one of the oldest car fleets and one of the highest number of cars per person in the EU, but which also happens to be the smallest member State, effective governance on transport is more urgent than ever.
Michael Briguglio is a sociologist.