How fair it is to criticise government of exacerbating the traffic problem through its road-building programme?

Ian Borg, minister for transport, infrastructure and capital projects

A holistic plan that is being implemented is what distinguishes this government from previous administrations.

The government’s first objective is to deliver a good quality of life to the people. So delivering our promises which are not based on fictional targets or dreams, but commitments based on solid plans with determinable and achievable objectives, is the reality of today. This is what this country’s transport strategy is all about.

Locally, we still have a car-dependent culture and, while the modal shift is a process that happens gradually, we cannot simply ignore the realities on our roads today. There is not only a single solution for the traffic challenge. That is why we have embarked on a multitude of initiatives, with the most visible being that of investing in our road infrastructure.

And even in this aspect, our plan does not only rely on one approach – widening roads – but it encompasses several kinds of initiatives aimed at improving the safety and efficiency of our road network. €700 million are being invested in upgrading our country’s residential roads, there is further investment to deliver safer and better-quality designs for junctions and further works to rebuild and redesign main routes and arteries.

Criticising the government’s interventions as merely being the widening of roads does not do justice to the reality. We are revisiting designs and planning for a smarter road network, replacing old underground service networks with newer and long-lasting ones, introducing more safety equipment and better lighting and signage, and designing our roads and junctions with the aim of catering for the needs of the foreseeable future.

The free public transport for youths initiative is one that is leaving a mark as well. We launched this initiative two years ago and, following a first successful year, we continued to widen the range for potential beneficiaries. This means that while in 2018 more than 24,000 youths benefitted from this scheme, in the first five months of this year nearly 30,000 youths and full-time students over the age of 20 have already benefited from more than three million trips. At the end of this day this translates into fewer vehicles on our roads.

Coupling this initiative with other schemes that fund the partial cost of a pedelec or an electric motorcycle means this government is not only widening roads. And let’s not forget the investment in the ferry landing sites which seek to continue increasing the use of this means of transport, so that the figure of 1.6 million passengers that we reached last year will continue to grow.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to pulling the same rope. Is this government holistically planning and implementing a wide range of initiatives related to transport and roads? The reply to this is yes.

So while we remain committed to plan, work and deliver positive results, we are also ready to continue working together with all stakeholders, including the public, towards a better and more sustainable future.

Toni Bezzina, Opposition spokesman for transport and infrastructure

Economy and transport are tightly interlinked. It is a known fact that a growing economy increases the demand on transport in that it raises the need for greater mobility for people, goods and services. It’s a known fact that inefficiency hinders progress.

Transport inefficiency, which is restricting our mobility, is the consequence of the increase of vehicles on our roads. Traffic has become a main concern to all, resulting in a serious burden on the environment, health, economy and also our safety. More worrying is the fact that when addressing the building industry community at the beginning of this year, the Prime Minister stated that a long-term vision and plan for the next 25 years or more does not apply to our country.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but shifting our dependence from private cars to a more efficient, reliable transport mode of choice is a must. Such a long-term vision for our country will make it easier for people to move around.

The introduction of an extensive road-building programme is not going to alleviate the present traffic burden. Such an approach is more likely to increase the car-carrying capacity, leading to a higher dependence on private transport for our mobility needs, not to mention the take-up of agricultural land, removal of trees and the reduction of space available for pedestrian use.

Statistics published by the National Statistics Office related to transport show that a well-planned, holistic approach is the way forward. In recent years, the number of deaths on our roads, and the purchase of private cars, have increased significantly. The latter has also contributed to an increase of 12 per cent of carbon dioxide in less than three years.

These statistics are a clear indication that the present government lacks vision, apart from the fact that it has failed miserably in the provision of an efficient and reliable public transport system.

Although a well-planned, road-widening programme could contribute to alleviate traffic congestion, the one-size-fits-all solution being adopted by the government leads to nowhere. Instead of taking the opportunity to introduce more bus-lanes, cycling lanes, car sharing and pooling carriageways, existing ones were eliminated to increase the private car-carrying capacity.

Congestion is a reality of national concern. For the benefit of our society, a national consensus must be reached to address such challenges in the long term. With the right attitude, coupled with a serious and widespread dialogue with all stakeholders involved, traffic congestion can be reduced significantly. The Nationalist Party, despite being in opposition, is prepared both to contribute and cooperate, to draw up suitable and effective solutions to mitigate one of the greatest challenges we are currently facing.

Marcus Lauri, PRO, Partit Demokratiku

Margaret Thatcher once said that the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money – a famous jibe which has really stuck because it holds so true. Throwing (State) money at a complex set of problems is incompetence at best, selectively funding projects for the benefit of contractors and doing little else is far more sinister.

The government’s modus operandi in handling the traffic situation is fractured and feeble. To be fair, the regional road flyover project was a success and the Marsa junction project should also be a success. However, road-widening projects are proving to be no real solution and the central link project has been met with justified criticism from the Environment and Resources Authority, residents and commuters alike.

Only a focused and consistent, tried and tested strategy of keeping the entire road network primed, monitored and well-managed will keep traffic better-flowing in the supposed war against congestion. In parallel, clean and sustainable alternative modes of transport must be introduced.    

As for Malta traffic, here are four stark, cold facts: 387,775 vehicles on our roads, rising by an average of nine per cent annually since 2000, with 2018 having the highest increase of 28,000 vehicles. Severe congestion at notorious spots and at determined times. A public transport system which is neither motivated nor encouraged to provide a more comprehensive service, and a total cost of accidents, congestion, climate change, pollution costs and noise poised to reach €317 million by 2020.

One only wonders whether the major car importers have been lobbying the two largest parties. When road management is not approached with the same zealous drive of ambitious new projects, it’s like installing a Rolls Royce engine on an old Skoda. The contradictions of the city of Dubai come to mind.

Immediate areas for improvement are regularly refreshed road markings, standardised traffic diversion measures such as for road works and construction sites, a smarter system for areas of busy commercial deliveries, improved vigilance and enforcement of all the highway code – serious traffic management in a nutshell. We only have to follow the North European model.

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men including all the persons of trust are ineffectual as the traffic saga sees no end.

PD is said to punch above its weight in offering solutions to the multiple malaises. The presentation of an alternative government to the electorate is not necessarily that of a sizeable team of potential ministers. Far more effective is an ethos which provides real and practical solutions to Malta’s challenges. No amount of incompetent persons of trust can guarantee a properly functioning state.

Malta needs a new blueprint. Reason must prevail.

If you would like to put any questions to the parties in Parliament send an e-mail marked clearly Question Time to editor@timesofmalta.com.