Our society is driven by a lifestyle where cars are protagonists. We instil the idea in our children that, as soon as they turn 18, they have to get their driving licence and own their car.
The car has become a must and is now an intrinsic part of the social fabric. But we have reached the extreme where owning a car is not just an expense for its owner but also carries a cost on the infrastructure and, as we are lately also finding out, on our health.
Every morning, many of us walk to our car, start the engine and drive to work and then, after a day’s work, we take the car back home. If you stop to think about it, you would realise that many of such people’s cars are lying idle for 95 per cent of the time.
Yet, they are still paying for fuel, road tax and insurance, not to mention maintenance costs.
From an infrastructure point of view, the reality is that, nowadays, no matter the location, vehicles are constantly occupying space on the roads for free, prime space which, in today’s terms, is an asset that comes at a high premium.
In reality, we will never know the real value of transport until we are forced to radically change the patterns of how we commute, a change so drastic it will bring a whole upheaval in our personal lifestyles, how we plan our days, where we spend most of our time and how we interact with family and friends.
Unfortunately, for this to happen, those in government will need to make difficult decisions.
If people experienced the real cost, many would become sensitised to the extent that they would start adjusting their driving patterns
Even more unfortunate, however, is Malta’s current political environment where society is based on a bi-party system.
This could possibly be the main reason why a long-term vision for transport, if there ever was one, can and will never be put into action for fear of losing precious votes.
People are comfortable and upsetting this feel-good factor will have adverse effects on popularity ratings. We have grown accustomed for far too long to free parking and free congestion zones, which are becoming even more congested.
We use our car every day and at any time. Cars have become the be-all-end-all and, without serious political will and consensus, a long-term plan that can start redressing the situation will never be possible.
Given that the use of cars is so accessible, our idea of the true value and cost of transport is, therefore, skewed. If people experienced the real cost, many would become sensitised to the extent that they would start adjusting their driving patterns.
The point of departure would be quantifying the real value of transport by looking at the two main variables of space and time.
Space in terms of all the vehicles occupying space on the roads and time as in what period of the day and for how long they are used. Optimising these two variables and assessing the opportunities available is key to a solid start in addressing our transport problems on a national scale.
Truth be told, there are many people who have started to opt for alternative modes of transport.
The ferry service in the harbour area and the Sliema to Valletta route are already ingrained in our daily lifestyles.
There is increased use of more reliable cab services and many are those who are reverting to the use of bicycles or scooters.
The Barrakka lift could be free of charge to incentivise those entering Valletta using such clean modes of transport. The infrastructure catering for these alternative means cannot be compromised but made more enabling.
No problem comes without a solution. Those who are empowered to make decisions have enough power to also decide on issues that could be a bit difficult but that, in the long run, would start addressing a problem that is close to saturation point.
Eventually, a situation will be reached where there will be continuity, irrespective of the party in government. That will be the day when traffic will stop being a political football.
Matthew Bezzina is CEO of e-Cabs.