Malta has a ‘Masterplan for Traffic’? Sure could have fooled me…

For a second, I thought (not for the first time) that our Finance Minister may actually have been referring to another country, altogether… when he briefly alluded to the existence of a ‘Masterplan for Traffic’

Cars (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Cars (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

For a second, I thought (not for the first time) that our Finance Minister may actually have been referring to another country, altogether… when he briefly alluded to the existence of a ‘Masterplan for Traffic’, in last Monday’s Budget speech.

Specifically, the part where – to quote yesterday’s Malta Independent – “In terms of public and alternative transport, Caruana said that the government is in the process of revising the ‘Masterplan for Transport’, which will cover the investments and measures necessary to realise the government’s vision for the sector by 2030.”

What? No, of course I’m not ‘making this up’. He really said that, I swear…

At the same time, however: I more or less understand why you’d be so sceptical, because… let’s face it: not only does Clyde Caruana seem to expect us all to simply take his word for it, that Malta even HAS such a thing as a ‘Masterplan for Traffic’ (despite all the overwhelming evidence to the contrary)…

… but he’s also implying that this ‘Masterplan’ has existed for long enough, to now require ‘revision’; not to mention, of course, that his government – that’s right, folks: the same Labour government that has only just banned e-scooters, from one moment to the next; whilst also permanently shelving its plans for an alternative public transport system, in the form of a ‘metro service’ – actually possesses a ‘vision’ for Malta’s (ahem!) ‘PUBLIC’ and ‘ALTERNATIVE’ transport sectors…!

I mean, come on. How gullible does Clyde Caruana even think we are, anyway?

Ah, but this is where our ride suddenly starts to get a little ‘bumpy’ (so if I were you, I’d fasten your seatbelts for the rest of this article…).

Going on the hunch that our Finance Minister wouldn’t be quite so brazen, as to deliberately ‘mislead Parliament’ by alluding to an official government policy that doesn’t actually exist… I took it upon myself to do a little ‘digging’ on Transport Malta’s website (by which I mean: I kept closing all the annoying ‘chatbot’ pop-up windows, until I could finally read what was hidden behind…)

And… well, what do you know? Clyde Caruana was right, after all. Indeed, it turns out that Malta has not one, but TWO (2) ‘Masterplans for Traffic’ (both of which, it seems, have been gathering dust in a TM filing cabinet, for around the past seven years).

Let’s take them in chronological order, shall we? The first was the ‘National Transport Strategy 2050’, launched in June 2016 by then-Transport Minister Joe Mizzi: who told us that the aim was to ‘[analyse] all modes of transport (land, public transport, maritime, and aviation), for internal and international transport [and] look closely at the needs of the country (both Malta and Gozo), identifying problems and seeking to understand what we expect to face in future – short, medium and long term.”

The second was the ‘Transport MasterPlan 2025’, launched by the same minister the following year… which can, I suppose, be regarded as an ‘update’ of the earlier document: seeing as both the aims, and the general conclusions, are more or less identical (indeed, the only tangible difference concerns the target date for implementation: by ‘2050’ and ‘2025’, respectively).

Now: it’s a little hard to pinpoint exactly which of those two strategies Clyde Caruana had in mind, when talking about a ‘Masterplan’ – if nothing else, because he gave us yet another target-date, to add to the two we’ve already long given up on ever actually reaching (‘by 2030’, this time)…

Either way, however, it matters little in the long run. Because there’s a reason, you know, why none of the recommendations of these ‘masterplans’ was ever actually implemented, in the 6-7 years since they were originally published.

The simplest way to explain it, I suppose, would be to just reproduce both those documents, in full (but as they amount to 200/400 pages respectively… well, it’s a little like the ‘Malta-Gozo tunnel’, I suppose. Not exactly ‘feasible’, is it now?)

So instead, I’ll just point towards a few of what the Transport MasterPlan 2025 identifies as ‘Weaknesses’, in its SWOT analysis of Malta’s road transport network. Namely:

Deep-rooted car-oriented culture and transport system characterised by the general lack of accessible space provided for other alternative modes such as walking, cycling and public transport.

Malta has one of the highest road densities in Europe and traffic is heavily concentrated across the central section of the TEN-T Network and link roads in the main urban agglomeration area.

Malta has high car dependency rates and low car occupancy rates.

Existing road network is designed for vehicular traffic which creates difficulties in its adaptation to other mobility options.

And just to give you a rough idea of why all those ‘weaknesses’ are destined to forever remain ‘weaknesses’: despite not one, but TWO ‘masterplans’ that were supposed to ‘strengthen’ them (but evidently, never did)… well, let’s just take a look at what finance Minister Clyde Caruana is actually proposing, in Budget 2024, for Malta’s ‘public and alternative transport sectors’…

We are told, for instance, that: “Addressing the issue of early rush hour traffic, the budget details how the government has consulted with the relevant stakeholders to arrive at measures to reduce rush hour traffic. Caruana said that the plan is being finalised and that measures include the restriction of road services provided before 9AM…”

And immediately after telling us that: “Traffic congestion and the use of private cars are two main challenges faced by the country. Therefore, Caruana said that it will be investing in a number of different means of transport to provide a choice of how to get from place to place…”

… what Caruana actually proposes, is that: “Starting next year, […] a study and potential implementation may begin of new parking areas in a model of public-private partnerships. It added that the possibility of park-and-ride areas for University students will be explored….”

Right, let’s stop there, for the time being. Leaving aside that – when you sift it all through – nothing really remains, but the same old, vague promises of ‘future studies’… and more ‘future studies’… and oh look! Even MORE ‘future studies’, that have yet to even ‘begin (and which we all know will never really amount to anything tangible, anyway …)

No, the problem is that – at every turn – Clyde Caruana is implementing the OPPOSITE of what those ‘masterplans’ have all along been recommending.

He talks, for instance, of ‘new parking areas’ – which he even throws at us, as an example of his government’s plans for future investment in ‘DIFFERENT means of transport’!

Sorry, but… ‘new parking areas’ can only ever benefit ‘people who drive cars’, you know. And last I looked: ‘driving cars’ was not exactly what you could call a ‘DIFFERENT’ - still less, ‘ALTERNATIVE’! - mode of transport (least of all, in a country which already identifies ‘high car dependency rates’, as its most fundamental cause of ‘traffic congestion’…)

The same, by the way, could be said for the proposed ‘restrictions on road services’. At best, this is nothing but a stop-gap measure: and while it might conceivably alleviate early-morning; at least, for a while… well, that’s the whole point right there, isn’t it?

According to those ‘Masterplans’, we were supposed to be looking at ‘LONG-’ (not ‘short-’) term solutions, to Malta’s traffic congestion problems. Yet instead of even trying to do any of that: the only thing Clyde Caruana’s government ever seems interested in doing, is:

Desperately trying to ‘patch-up’ a hopelessly broken traffic system, here and there (in ways which have been tried before; and which, let’s face it, have never really worked);

Performing ‘U-turns’ - and rarely has that expression ever been more appropriate - on the few earlier promises it HAD made, which might have actually reduced traffic congestion, at least a little (including, inter alia, specific promises concerning ‘bicycle lanes’; and also ‘non-motorised modes of transport’… of which ‘e-scooters – unpopular though they undeniably are – remain an optimal example).

And lastly;

Implementing measures that actually CONTRIBUTE to the same traffic congestion problem, that the government is supposedly trying to ‘solve’.

Far from being ‘long-term solutions’ to Malta’s transport concerns: proposals such as ‘new parking areas’ – and even ‘e-cars’, by the way: which still take up exactly the same amount of road-space, as your regular old ‘CAR’-car (if you know what I mean) - can only ever PERPETUATE that very problem… by simply making it a whole lot easier, and more convenient, for people to just carry on using their cars, like they’ve always done in the past (instead of, say, using all the exciting new ‘alternative public transport systems’, that this government keeps promising us – and commissioning studies about - but never actually gets round to implementing).

Much more pertinently, however… all those Budget 2024 proposals run directly counter, to the direction Caruana’s government is SUPPOSED to be taking: according to the same ‘Masterplan’ that the Finance Minister mentioned himself, in his Budget speech last Monday.

And given that we are ultimately talking about a national strategy, aimed to alleviate Malta’s widely-known traffic problems – which, incidentally, also include the fact that our country has the highest rate of respiratory disease (caused chiefly by vehicular emissions) anywhere in Europe…

… well, it’s a little like taking your car for a quick spin along (for instance) the Regional Road: and choosing to drive on the wrong side of the road, all the way, from start to finish…

It’s sort of bound to ‘end in disaster’: wouldn’t you say?