The Y-plates saga: The law of the jungle benefits no one

The onus is on the authorities to ensure Malta has a cab sector that is functioning well

Ride-hailing apps revolutionised the cab industry in Malta over the past five years, leading to a change in attitudes towards this mode of transport.

More people today choose to get a cab to attend events, go to work or simply carry out errands, than they used to in the past.

Technology has made it easier for people to hail a cab, know what it will cost them and pay it off; all through a mobile phone.

Along with free public transport, cabs offer an alternative travel solution for people who choose to leave their cars at home.

The proliferation of private cab companies has resulted in increased competition that drove prices down, making this mode of transport accessible to a wider audience. Indeed, cabs are part of the country’s transport solution.

But like anything else, this burgeoning sector needs to be regulated well to avoid popular pushback and unfair competition.

MaltaToday has for the past two weeks been following the issue of Y-plate vehicles parked abusively on the streets and public areas when not in use.

This newspaper keeps receiving photos from residents all over Malta showing Y-plate vehicles parked overnight on the streets and in every nook and cranny.

The law clearly states that to obtain a Y-plate registration, the driver has to have a garage where vehicles not in use can be parked.

Unfortunately, many cab drivers are choosing to ignore the obligation to park their vehicles in a garage and instead leaving them in public places.

Invariably, these Y-plate vehicles end up taking valuable parking space in residential roads.

Either these cab drivers obtained their Y-plate licence fraudulently by providing a fictitious garage address and so have no private parking space for their vehicle as required by law; or else they provided a garage address that is inadequate to house their vehicle for some reason or another. Alternatively, they have done everything by the book but do not bother to fulfil their legal obligation to garage their vehicle when not in use.

To make matters worse, the authorities appear to be oblivious to this rampant abuse. Residents have spoken to us about repeated reports they filed about Y-plate vehicles left overnight on the street, or in public car parks and the authorities fail to turn up.

This newspaper is informed that the authorities only conducted a swoop and fined Y-plate vehicles normally left inside the public car park next to PBS in Gwardamanġa after MaltaToday last Sunday flagged the location as one of the problematic areas.

The lax enforcement is problematic because it creates the impression that abusers enjoy some form of impunity in the eyes of the law. It is useless having good laws on paper and fines increased accordingly if these are not enforced.

The authorities do the right thing when they fine residents for parking their private cars wrongly in their neighbourhoods at night but what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Residents are justified to be irked by the double standards shown when Y-plate cars parked on the same street are ignored.

If existing rules state that Y-plate vehicles should be garaged then operators must adhere to them and punished if they disregard them.

The law of the jungle benefits no one. On the contrary, the law of the jungle irks residents, who see valuable parking space being gobbled up by commercial operators and creates unfair competition for bona fide operators who go through the expense to adhere to all legal requirements, including investing in a garage.

The onus here is on the authorities to enforce the rules and ensure a proper vetting system is in place to verify whether the information supplied by prospective Y-plate drivers is correct.

A proper functioning cab industry that can offer consumers competitive prices is a necessary cog in Malta’s transport ecosystem. Long gone are the days when the only form of cab system was the White Taxi service or fleet operators who operated from a garage and could only be contacted by phone.

It would be a shame if the ride-hailing sector is allowed to develop into a problem. The only way to avert this is to ensure rules are properly enforced across the board. Cowboys have no place chauffeuring people around.

The onus is on the authorities to ensure Malta has a cab sector that is functioning well.