The coexistence we need

If we have green alternatives, should we not cater for them in the ways that we cater for other vehicles?

File photo
File photo

The entire body of media outlets has seen countless opinion pieces, news articles and comments made by citizens on greener transport alternatives. Malta lacks green transportation is not at all unfamiliar nor news these days. It is also not news that just a few kilometres away from us, the rest of our world is facing a gross increase in fuel prices; the same fuel that poses the greatest threat to our planet.

I found myself perplexed with the online reactions to e-scooter usage in in Malta. Yes, it is frustrating when irresponsible users show no respect to pedestrians or others using vehicles. However, the irresponsibility on our streets cannot be bogged down solely to those using e-scooters. The first thing that pops to mind is how the different bars and restaurants at the Ferries in Sliema have not only taken the pavements but also all parking spaces in front of them, leaving residents and customers with no place to park. To add insult to injury, now that the parking spaces have gone, vans unloading deliveries to these bars and restaurant, as well as taxis, end up stopping to deliver their goods (or people) on one of the two lanes available, leaving only one lane for e-scooters, bicycles, motorbikes, buses, cars, vans and trucks to use – many a times this leads to traffic up until the Ta’ Xbiex and Msida area.

It is a reality that having a society accustomed to use fuel vehicles on a daily basis from the minute we turn 18, has created devastating effects on the air we breathe and the environment we inhabit. Statistics by the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) paint a grim picture of our ambient air quality which is leading to more deaths in our country than the COVID-19 pandemic unfortunately brought.

This is precisely why we need to change the way we move from one place to another and to help us do so, we need the proper infrastructure and laws that incentivise the usage of alternate means of transport.

While not blaming the 12 Local Councils from my region that issued a strong statement on the way e-scooters are creating problems to other citizens, especially the ones with mobility challenges, I value initiatives which derive from outside-the-box thinking. I value innovation, convenience and most of all, I value a society that seeks solutions to the challenges we face. All this is an exact representation of what the San Gwann Local Council, led by Mayor Trevor Fenech, has managed to propose and hopefully achieve in this regard.

The proposal to introduce specifically allocated parking spaces (without decreasing spaces for cars) is one solution to the main issue that this alternative mode of transport brings – random, careless parking. A solution which was brought about by acting rationally rather than hastily. In essence, this solution would have been the natural choice had it been cars that we were discussing. Yet when it comes to cleaner modes of transport, we are still perceiving these as something foreign rather than a crucial fragment of our connectivity and health in general. 

If we have green alternatives, should we not cater for them in the ways that we cater for other vehicles? Allocated parking for instance. Infrastructure that provides sufficient space for such modes of transport (as are bus routes, bicycle routes and general car routes). Regulations which determine the how and the what. This may seem complicated or far-fetched at first but just as we regulate car traffic, we can regulate e-scooters without having to get rid of them.

The benefits that we, as a country, will reap from initiatives and regulations of this sort are endless when compared to the loss of a greener alternative we will suffer should these e-scooters be banned entirely. 

As readers you might find it strange that after all the nuisance and inconveniences that these e-scooters have caused, I am here writing an opinion piece in favour of these same scooters. It is however my personal experience that has given me this, somewhat positive and hopeful perspective. I use e-scooters both during my time in Brussels and also in Malta. This gives me a dual view of what works offshore and what could work here in Malta. For instance, I can see the difference in regulations, responsibility of users, infrastructure and the way the transport system caters for them as another means of transport rather than as a nuisance. More importantly, car users and pedestrians have learned to co-exist with bicycles, e-scooters and anything of the sort.

Finally, I acknowledge the places wherein e-scooters are prohibited. In cases like Strasbourg for instance, where the European Parliament meets monthly, e-scooters are not available for rent. You can only use your own. So if Strasbourg does not allow them, why should we? Simple: because in Strasbourg, other much greener means of transport are available and catered for. In Malta, cars rule the roads.

It is for this reason that we cannot afford doing away with greener alternatives as are e-scooters. These are a way to reduce car use and encourage a culture of green alternatives. This is why I contend and firmly believe that the solution is not removing e-scooters entirely, but finding solutions which permit the coexistence of alternative means of transport.