A transport system for Valletta, using bubble-like electric cabs for three passengers, is scheduled to start on June 27, adding a greener dimension to the capital city by reducing air and noise pollution.
The CT Cab system, launched by CT Park Ltd yesterday, will initially consist of 10 battery-powered chauffeur-driven cabs, transporting passengers from 10 points in Valletta to any destination within the city.
Valletta's grid-like streets have been divided into two zones for the purpose of the innovative transport system that exists in only two other European cities.
Zone A covers the city centre, which incorporates City Gate, Old Bakery Street, St Christopher Street up to Merchants Street and Castille Place, with a one-way trip costing 45c (€1 from January 1) for the first passenger and 10c for additional ones.
Zone B, the peripheral zone, covering the rest of the area within Valletta, costs 90c (€2) for the first passenger, and 20c for any others.
For the first week, however, the service is free of charge, CT Park Ltd chairman Kenneth De Martino told guests at Le Meridien Phoenicia yesterday.
He said the service would be operating 13 hours a day (from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.), including weekends and public holidays, while a dial-a-cab service would also be available for the night at a surcharge of 45c.
Apart from the cab stands - located at City Gate, St James Cavalier, St John's Co-Cathedral, Lascaris Wharf, the law courts, the President's Palace, Old Theatre Street, the War Museum, the Mediterranean Conference Centre and Marsamxett Harbour - passengers would have the facility to call a cab on 2133 3321 or 7933 3321 from any point in the city at a supplement of 45c, or hop onto a vacant one.
Mr De Martino said he believed the CT electric cab service will contribute towards improving the lives of Valletta residents while ensuring the continuing revitalisation and conservation of the World Heritage Site.
Private companies and government entities operating from Valletta also have the opportunity to use the service on an exclusive basis by having a cab allocated to their specific requirements, and carrying their logo and identity, or any form of advertising.
Speaking from the environmental point of view, Environment Minister George Pullicino said the vehicles, which used electricity for energy, served to reduce urban air pollution, though he augured that, eventually, they would switch to photovoltaic panels installed on their roofs in order to operate on solar power instead, using renewable sources that cut costs in the long term.
A petrol-driven car required 2.3 litres of fuel to move 50 kilometres - a distance the electric cars could travel on one battery charge, he said.
Moreover, driving from Customs to St John's Co-Cathedral emitted 350 grammes of carbon dioxide into the air, Mr Pullicino said.
The CT Cab concept had initially encountered strong scepticism, he said, adding that the government's incentive schemes, introduced in previous budgets to promote the use of electric vehicles by waiving taxes and refunding Lm500 on each car, were a reason why the project has materialised.
Urban Development and Roads Minister Jesmond Mugliett described the CT Cabs as "alternative transport" because they were "modern, clean and user-friendly", as well as state-of-the-art.
The system, another chapter in a series of projects targeting transport in Valletta, was a means to mitigate the side effects of its pedestrianisation, while introducing more competition in the transport section, which would result in an improvement of services.
IT Minister Austin Gatt, speaking as chairman of the Cabinet Committee for National Projects, highlighted the importance and difficulty of a culture and attitude change required to bring about the Valletta "dream" to turn it into the "most beautiful baroque city, where people lived - not cars!"
The pedestrianisation of Merchants Street, a part of the entire project, would reveal five auberges and three homes of Maltese nobility in a single road - and probably never noticed before due to the cars.
More transport measures were in the pipeline, including a ferry service from Cospicua and Sliema to Valletta for which tenders had not been taken up, but would be reissued, Dr Gatt said.
Valletta mayor Paul Borg Olivier described the entire Valletta project, including the CVA and park-and-ride systems, as "one of the biggest accessibility and mobility strategies" to be undertaken in the last 50 years.
He said talks were also underway to increase the CT Cab service for residents, particularly the elderly.