“People need to move from one place to another. Cars offer this solution. We should build bigger roads for more cars.”
Whether you like it or not this is the line of thought most of our decision makers follow. In this article I will look at how the present situation is affecting the quality of life of most of us.
Malta’s physical size is that of a small town in a European Country; maybe a fraction of the size of a typical city. In most European countries, car ownership is decreasing and people are shifting to other modes of transport. Why is this happening and what are we doing differently?
Cars have long been recognised as the single biggest source of urban air pollution in Europe, especially in small spaces such as residential roads. Air pollution is also one of the biggest threats to human health mostly affecting our lungs and hearts. Moreover private cars encourage a passive lifestyle whereby we are encouraged to use our cars for most of our errands and behave inefficiently. Sure, cars offer comfort for people travelling with kids and persons with mobility difficulties. However, all around the world an alternative is being sought; one which looks away from car use and targets mobility directly.
Going back to the first statement of this article, “people need to move from one place to another”, one can think of alternatives to make this happen. The term intermodality encapsulates all the alternatives to non-essential private car use. The first example that comes to mind is the “Park and Ride” scheme introduced in 3 locations in Malta a few years ago. The one that seems to work best is the Floriana Park and Ride which has essentially taken away much traffic and parking issues from inside Valletta and allows people to still use their car. In fact the University of Malta’s Student Council (KSU) has adopted a similar scheme and is now offering a park and ride scheme to university students who want to use their car but want to avoid the parking chaos that exists on campus. The scheme is operated by tallinja and allows students to park at the Pembroke Park and Ride and ride all the way to University with a Direct Bus.
I believe that these ideas are already a step in the right direction and that more such initiatives should be considered. Intermodality plays a key role in addressing the need for people’s mobility. To fully exploit the benefits of intermodality, we need to normalise other modes of transport, particularly two-wheeled solutions such as bicycles and motorcycles. These will largely free up vast amounts of space, cutting down on the need to expand the road-footprints as the current modus operandi. Catering for more cars is simply not a solution to the current traffic situation.
We need to shift our lifestyles and this is only possible through a combined effort of discouraging car use and encouraging other modes of transport. Naturally, these measures will take a while to become palatable to the public. The Maltese government also plays a key role in providing valuable incentives to adopt changes which without them might be considered unfeasible. Such incentives include coupling a parking fee with free public transport. Others include a cycle to work scheme where the employee is rewarded with a financial incentive to leave their car at home and facilities are provided to make commuting by bicycle easier. Road safety and proper cycling infrastructure is also imperative.
Our vision is quite simple, we want to see alternative modes of transport for a healthier and cleaner future. Relying on cars is clearly not a sustainable choice, and has long-term consequences. However such a change requires real policy change that puts people before cars. It’s useless giving financial incentives to buy a new bicycle when the existing infrastructure doesn’t accommodate it. We need to make our roads safe for all. Government should start implementing its own Transport Master Plan.
We will continue to work on real progressive and sustainable changes, we want to make our localities more people and bicycle friendly. We want to make our roads safe and accessible to everyone. We want to reclaim our roads to eliminate traffic and improve our wellbeing.
Alternattiva Demokratika Żgħażagħ Chairperson