Have I become lazy? | Rebekah Borg

While e-scooters are just one alternative to using a car, other forms of transport should also be integrated into our transport system

As a 20-something year old studying in the UK, I did not own a car. I did have a driving license, but it was not generally accepted that university students owned a car. At the first university I attended, we would get around mostly by foot or by bus, again, because that was the trend. In Oxford, however, where I then moved to, the trend was bicycles. So, I bought a bicycle and would cycle nearly an hour each way, every day, to my university classes.

I then came back to Malta. I no longer used a bicycle or caught the bus that often. Does it mean I suddenly became lazy? No (although I could probably go to the gym more often). I bought a car because that was the trend. And, as a typical Maltese driver, I shamelessly try to park my car as close to my destination as possible. The day be damned should I have to walk 15 mins to reach my destination because I do not find parking.

From experience, I can say I adapted to the local scenario in terms of transport regardless of the weather, the geography, or the efficiency of the transport method. But the trends that develop, or the culture that pertains to that society, develops due to a multitude of reasons. One of the main reasons (albeit not the only one) is government policy.

In Malta, even the slightest suggestion of making use of an alternative mode of transport, other than cars, is generally met with sarcastic and doubtful comments. This goes to show the level of distrust that exists in the people who are entrusted with the development of our road network.

Unfortunately, our policies and resulting infrastructure are based on the outdated understanding that widening our roads means a better transport system. This automatically equates to Malta’s policies being based on a car-centric approach, which is clearly the cultural trend in Malta when considering we have 56 new cars on our road each day.

This approach was crystallised when Transport Minister Aaron Farrugia said that the government’s primary aim is for roads to be safe and more efficient for cars. Then, if there is space for a bicycle lane, it will be included.

With a holistic transport plan comes planning for infrastructure, which is essential to change society’s trends. For example, e-scooters are readily available but are they really a convenient alternative method of transportation? Considering Malta’s size, bicycles should be an obvious solution, but without the proper infrastructure only a few would consider them so.

In Malta we seem to have missed a crucial step in the process of integrating new modes of localised transport. Secondary modes of transport, like the e-scooters, do not fit into our transport strategy, or lack of it, but were introduced as a business development move.

How did we end up here though? By logic, the smaller the country, the easier it is to reduce the number of cars on the road. We have somehow managed to get it all wrong. Piecemeal transport improvements result in the situation we are in today: roads jammed packed with cars resulting in car-related casualties mounting with each passing day.

Suggesting to the Government to focus on a holistic transport plan, to promote other modes of transport, has so far proved futile. It has been made abundantly clear that it is not on their agenda.

Labour’s uninspired approach towards a better transport system means that this will probably remain the case for years to come. A worrying prospect considering policy must first be studied, then implemented – implementation which can take years – followed by more time to induce a shift in mentality.

The boundaries for any proposed solutions for our road issues have been set by the powers that be. Realistically, we now find ourselves staring at the prospect of somehow having to forcefully integrate e-scooters (or any other mode of transport for that matter) into our existing disjointed transport framework that glorifies car usage.

As part of a small team, within the Nationalist Party, attempting to curtail some issues we are facing because of Malta’s failed transport policy plan, we proposed 16 viable solutions to address pertinent issues related to lack of enforcement and illegal parking of e-scooters.

Due to a lack of proper integration into an overall transport plan, people have become frustrated with e-scooters, rather than seeing them as an alternative means of transport. There have been numerous reports of e-scooters users breaking road rules and failing to exert the utmost attention whilst driving.

This can also be attributed to a lack of proper enforcement of the existing micromobility rules by the relevant authorities. We are of the opinion that enforcement should be a shared responsibility between all parties – the users, the pedestrians, the service providers, and the authorities.

Authorities should have the power to confiscate e-scooters that violate parking laws, using unintrusive devices to make sure the basic speed regulations are being adhered to, forcing the operators to make their system more robust, and organising awareness campaigns with the aim of reducing destructive and disrespectful behaviour.

Vulnerable road users should be protected by adopting the system of ‘presumed liability’, which puts the onus on drivers to take responsibility to drive in a way that minimizes the risk of injury to vulnerable road users.

Other proposals include a thorough revision to the list of where it should be permissible to drive e-scooters, designated parking zones that double-up as charging stations, and the verification of some form of driving license before making use of e-scooter rental services.

While e-scooters are just one alternative to using a car, other forms of transport should also be integrated into our transport system.

We drew our attention to e-scooters because the situation needed immediate attention and it worked. The government seems to be progressing, albeit slowly, to better e-scooter management. But this is just a slender slice of a much larger cake. The cake being a holistic transport plan.

We will continue to research, question, listen and put pressure on the government, so as it can perhaps one day realise that a car-centric approach to transport is not the solution. A cultural shift is needed but this can only take place if the right policies and infrastructure are in place.

Rebekah Borg is a Nationalist MP