We need to get rid of the last vestiges of protectionism in the cab industry

It is pretty obvious that the decision to control the presence of Y-plate cabs in these key locations is not one motivated by a higher public good but more of a protectionist measure. Transport Malta has acted to protect White Taxi operators from competition

The decision taken by Transport Malta to impose geofencing restrictions on Y-plate cabs in key strategic locations was billed as a measure to improve traffic flow and safety. 

The restriction has been imposed in the area outside the Phoenicia Hotel in Floriana, the airport, the sea terminal in Valletta and other ferry landing sites. Cabs that drop off passengers in these designated areas will have to travel back out of the geo-fenced area before accepting a fresh ride from someone inside the zone. 

This is expected to increase waiting time for users and it will contribute to unnecessary traveling by Y-plate vehicles. 

Nonetheless, had the measure been introduced to bring order to chaotic situations in these cab-hailing hot spots it would have been a laudable initiative. We do not expect any operator to do as they please and occupy valuable street space unnecessarily. 

But it so happens that the chosen locations have fixed taxi stands that are used exclusively by White Taxi operators. These operators will not be impacted by the new rules. 

It is pretty obvious that the decision to control the presence of Y-plate cabs in these key locations is not one motivated by a higher public good but more of a protectionist measure. 

Transport Malta has acted to protect White Taxi operators from competition. 

The mere fact that such a measure was introduced on the eve of an election reinforces our belief that the government was simply trying to placate discontent by a small but vocal cohort of potential voters – White Taxi operators had been threatening to protest. It seens, the decision was only motivated by electoral concerns. 

There is no place in the cab-hailing industry for a protected group to dictate how the sector evolves to suit its needs. Indeed, the sector must be fully liberalised and a level playing field assured for everyone. 

If geofencing is required to improve traffic flow and safety in key locations then it should be imposed on all operators, including white taxis. The higher public good should prevail over everything else. 

The authority’s role should be to enforce high standards of service across the board so that consumers can travel safely, competition is safeguarded and communities protected from chaotic situations. 

The cab-hailing market has made great strides over the past five years and it has enticed more commuters to use the service as an alternative to their private car. Indeed, private companies have invested heavily and are continuously developing new ideas and services. 

The sector today is also a significant employer, even though many are foreign. 

Competition has allowed consumers to benefits from more affordable travel options. It is thus anathema to have a small part of this sector operate in a quasi-protectionist environment, which is the result of historical circumstances that make little sense today. 

Unlike sea transport, where competition has proved to be counterproductive, the cab-hailing industry has thrived in a competitive environment. Its development should not be stymied by short-term electoral considerations that benefit the few and disregard the wider public good.

Recognise Palestine now 

In March, Prime Minister Robert Abela agreed with his counterparts in Spain, Ireland and Slovenia to take steps towards recognising a Palestinian state. 

In the weeks that followed Spain, Ireland, Norway and more recently Slovenia formally took the step to recognise the Palestinian state. 

Malta has so far held back. In a dry response to questions from this newspaper, the Foreign Ministry said Malta is committed to recognise the Palestinian state “when the conditions are good”. 

It appears that despite Abela’s fanfare in March – which was an attempt to take a political dig at the Opposition – Malta has succumbed to pressure from the United States and Israel not to go all the way. 

Malta has always championed the Palestinian cause and advocated for a two-state solution in the Middle East irrespective of whoever was in government. It is a foreign policy position that has endured and enjoys cross-party consensus. 

So, it is baffling how, after making a big deal in March, Abela has not found the will and courage to forge ahead with the formalities to recognise Palestine. 

The reluctance suggests that the commitment announced in March was nothing more than an election ploy, which is unfortunate because it dilutes the national consensus on the issue. 

Recognising a Palestinian state does not equate to legitimising the militant group Hamas and its murderous actions of October 7. 

Hamas is not Palestine and Palestine is not Hamas. If anything, recognition of the Palestinian state will help foster stronger dialogue and cooperation with the more moderate voices in Palestine. 

Malta should fulfil its commitment and immediately recognise a Palestinian state.