Far fewer people are using the transport authority’s text message system to report polluting vehicles, as the number of messages fell by 18,600 in two years.

More than 32,500 messages were sent to Transport Malta’s emissions alert service in 2009, a figure that dropped to almost 13,900 messages in 2011, a report by the National Audit Office has revealed.

The audit office carried out a follow-up review after a 2009 study indicated that the transport watchdog had consistently ignored more than 70,500 text messages since January 2008.

After the service was launched in August 2005, more than 257,400 messages were sent to the authority, the number peaking in 2008 with more than 54,000.

But between 2008 and 2011 the number of reports dropped by 74 per cent.

In its report, tabled in Parliament, the NAO said the decrease was linked to the campaign’s lack of publicity and new buses with modern Euro V engines, among other aspects.

Transport Malta revived the emissions campaign briefly in 2011 and this had a positive effect, the audit office noted.

It said that, “to varying degrees”, the authority had sought to implement recommendations made in the 2009 study.

It “partially improved its audit trails relating to the processing of text reports” and tried to revive it through a publicity campaign. But despite Transport Malta’s efforts, the emissions campaign was “still subject to operational limitations”.

This meant that potentially non-compliant vehicles were still used for a number of months. This was because processing the text messages was heavily delayed, to the detriment of air quality, the report pointed out.

Transport Malta did not have the IT infrastructure to support the emissions system, and lack of funds prohibited the authority from making further progress, the audit office noted.

This was “conducive” to inefficiencies when processing and analysing the reports. Data were still not analysed in real time, which led to “substantial delays” in calling and testing vehicles deemed to be non-compliant.

It also translated into enforcement inefficiencies as the transport authority was “unable to immediately impose a restriction on the renewal of an offending vehicle ’s licence”.