How many authorities does it actually take, to install a single speed camera?

"The authorities, in this country, always give priority to cars... never to people. Their only concern is to ‘keep the traffic moving’ – ideally as fast as possible – and that’s it, really. Nothing else matters...”

Some of you might recognise that headline as a twist on a famous – or rather, ‘infamous’ – format of joke-telling, that was very popular on school playgrounds back in the good old days (you know: before things like ‘political correctness’ came along, to spoil all the fun...)

But let’s face it: that was quite a long time ago, now. So for the benefit of those who might never have heard this sort of joke before: it always started with the question, ‘How many [insert nationality/ethnicity of your choice] does it take to change a light bulb?’ To which the answer, of course, would invariably tell us far more about the prejudices that exist against those ‘nationalities/ethinicities’; than about the quantity of them that would actually be needed, to accomplish the task at hand.

One quick example, that I remember hearing myself (and I’ll leave it up to you to guess the nationality/ethnicity of the joke-teller):

“How many Irishmen does it take to change a light bulb? None! Because the Irish are still so f***ing backward, they haven’t even dicovered the wheel yet... let alone, electricity!”   

And that, I might add, was by no means the most ‘politically incorrect’ version I’d ever heard. The worst I remember, by far, was one that an 11-year-old student came up with, at my own school, about the Ethiopians (bearing in mind that this is the 1980s I’m talking about here: Bob Geldorf, ‘Live Aid’, and all.)

Once again, the answer was ‘None!’ This time, however, the reason was: “because they had all already died of starvation by then, anyway!”

And, well, there you have it, I suppose. There is a perfectly valid reason why those jokes have fallen out of fashion, all these years later. (In fact, I myself – not exactly a massive fan of ‘political correctness’, as you all know – feel vaguely uncomfortable, at the memory that I actually used  find that sort of thing FUNNY, all those years ago...)

But back to the version in the headline: which – in case you were wondering – is not, as it may appear, just another variation of that same joke, that I came up with myself.  Oh, no: it was an actual question, that has been repeatedly asked  - in no uncertain terms; and in almost exactly the same words, too! - by at least two mayors, of two different localities, in the space of the last few weeks alone (under circumstances that, I might add, are very far from being even remotely ‘amusing’)

This, for instance, is how Attard mayor Stefan Cordina phrased it, when speaking to the press a few days after the latest fatal traffic accident on the Central Link bypass.

“[Cordina] explained how concerns were raised by the council [about traffic safety along that stretch of road] as early as November 8 of 2021” – that’s two-and-a-half years ago, folks – and that: “To the surprise of the local council, no immediate action was taken to address the speeding in the area [even after the results of Transport Malta’s ‘speed surveys’ were published, on March 17 2022]. The council had then submitted further reminders and applied to have speed cameras installed.”

In other words, the Attard local council formally applied to have speed cameras installed, on the Central Link bypass, well over a year ago: in response to a traffic safety issue (speeding) that had been recognised as a problem – and confirmed, even by Traffic Malta’s own surveys – almost two years before that.

And yet... do I need to go on? How many speed cameras – or other ‘traffic-calming measures’, of any kind whatsoever – have been installed on that particular bypass, since the mayor filed his application back in March 2017?

Why... not a single one, of course! And what’s more, Cardona also added that - in a meeting with Transport Malta CEO Jonathan Borg, held this week – “it was explained that Transport Malta alone is not responsible for the installation of speed cameras, as other agencies are involved in the process. The Attard Mayor appealed to the authorities to remove this red tape as soon as possible...”

As you can clearly see, then: the phraseology might not be precisely the same... but Stefan Cordina is still very explicitly demanding the same sort of information, as I asked in that earlier question. How many ‘other agencies’, exactly, are involved in taking a decision which – as far as I can see, anyway – isn’t even all that very ‘difficult’ (or ‘expensive’, for that matter) to actually take?

Because let’s be honest, folks: the answer has to “quite a few, actually”... considering that it has so far taken all these nameless ‘agencies’ and ‘authorities’, the better part of three whole years... just to install one, single, solitary, measly little ‘speed camera’ (not just in Attard, by the way; but anywhere at all, on the entire island...)

Which brings me to the second local councillor  - Conrad Borg Manche, mayor of Gzira: another town which is no stranger to ‘fatal accidents, caused by over-speeding’– who once again raised exactly the same question: this time, in an interview I did with him myself, at the beginning of this month.

This is a short excerpt from that interview:

“[...] If you go to France, Spain, or Italy, the seafronts there are not like ours. They used to be like ours, 40 years ago; but those countries recognised that ‘seafront areas’ were being enjoyed by the general public; so they took the decision to remove all high-speed roads, and replace them with infrastructre that prioritises ‘people, over cars’.

“Here in Malta, on the other hand: we’ve done the very opposite. Take ‘speed cameras’, for instance: where have we actually put them all, in this country? On all the main, arterial roads– the Regional Road, the Mriehel Bypass, etc – and NOT on the roads where they are most needed: in urban areas, where thousands of pedestrians have to cross the street, on a daily basis; and where the traffic needs to be ‘calmed’, the most...”

And when I (provocatively, I admit) confronted Borg Manche’ with the fact that – as mayor of Gzira – it is actually supposed to be HIS OWN JOB, to install such measures as ‘speed cameras, zebra crossings’, etc... he gave me a withering, exasperated look.

“What, do you think I haven’t tried? I’ve been applying to have all those things introduced, for years!  [...] Zebra crossings, for instance. If it were up to me, there’d be one at every single intersection in Gzira. [But] I’ve been applying for zebra crossings, and speed cameras, and other traffic-calming measures, for literally years on end; but now, I’ve given up. After all, why should I – as the mayor of a locality - have to ‘beg’ the authorities, for these things? Isn’t it obvious that they are needed? That they might save people’s lives...?”

Now: at the time, Borg Manche didn’t specify – and I didn’t have the foresight to ask – exactly how many years, he has been formally demanding the introduction of  ‘traffic-calming measures’, in Gzira. He did, however, very clearly indicate that – like Attard’s Stefan Cordina – he, too, had filed official applications, with the relevant authorities (Transport Malta, Infrastructure Malta, etc.), and through all the proper channels, for those measures to be taken.

And still, all these years later... nothing. Not a speed camera installed, anywhere in the entire town; not a single pedestrian crossing added... not even, it seems, so much as a official reply to all those applications Borg Manche had earlier filed.

At which point... sorry, but I personally ‘call bull’ on this idea – as seemingly promulgated by the Transport Malta CEO – that the reason for this delay can be put down to just ‘bureaucracy’; or ‘red-tape’; or to any other scenario, where the process is slowed down by the existence of ‘too many authorities’, involved in actually taking the decision.

For even if it were true (as it may well be) that there are indeed ‘other agencies involved in the process’... it still doesn’t explain why that these agencies are taking so goddamn long, to respond to such a simple – yet potentially ‘life-saving’ – request.

Clearly, there must be another reason to account for this apparent ‘reluctance’, on the part of the authorities, to ever introduce even a single traffic-calming measure’, of any kind whatsoever, in this country...

And as things stand today: the only one I can possibly think up, off the top of my head, is... well, the same one Conrad Borg Manche gave me, in that same interview:

“The only explanation, as far as I can see, is that: the authorities, in this country, always give priority to cars... never to people. Their only concern is to ‘keep the traffic moving’ – ideally as fast as possible – and that’s it, really. Nothing else matters...”

And this, too, somehow reminds me of all those ‘politically incorrect’ jokes of yesteryear. Not, of course, because this situation is in any way ‘funny’... but because: let’s face it. It’s not exactly what you would call very ‘politically correct’ either, is it?