Opposition: Budget says nothing on traffic despite public’s frustration

Opposititon MPs accuse Transport minister of inaction in the face of growing concerns on traffic. Minister insists that progress is being made and that problem was ignored by previous administrations.

Marthese Portelli has criticised the government for the lack of budgetary measures aimed at improving the country's traffic problem
Marthese Portelli has criticised the government for the lack of budgetary measures aimed at improving the country's traffic problem

Shadow minister for transport Marthese Portelli has criticised the government for the lack of budgetary measures aimed at tackling the country’s traffic problem, adding that there were only three measures that address the issue. 

Portelli was speaking in parliament during a debate on the budget for the Transport ministry. She said that the ministry’s budget impacts the everyday life of everyone living on the island as well as a number of important sectors, such as the maritime and aviation sectors – both of which require responsible decisions to be taken.

On the general traffic situation, Portelli said that traffic was now the leading concern for citizens as evidenced by MaltaToday survey’s which she said, have consistently been showing people’s increasing frustration.

Portelli questioned why the government would be offering free public transport to 18-year olds when at that age, the majority of youths are still not of driving age. She added that a Nationalist government would introduced free public transport for all school children to help counter the increase in traffic associated with transport of students to and from schools.

In addition to this, Portelli said that the PN would identify new areas that can be used as park and ride centres, introduce a system of affordable taxis, a dedicated transport for government employees, incentives for companies not to use heavy vehicles during rush hour and a scheme for the use of power assisted bikes among others.

Portelli also criticised the government for not having introduced the smart traffic light system that it had said it was going to introduce.

“Traffic lights should all be connected and not clustered because this does not reflect the countries present needs. Two years ago, the government promised in the budget that traffic lights would start using this smart system however this has still not yet happened,” she said.

On public transport, the shadow minister said while the transport minister was claiming that the system was improving, people who use public transport know that this is not the case.  She also said that bus drivers working for Autobuses de Leon – the company operating Malta’s public transport system – were being deprived of a break if they have been stuck in traffic, adding that this was not fair on the drivers as well as being dangerous for drivers and passengers alike given that some drivers operate a 12-hour shift. Portelli added that there was also an issue with the current fleet of busses which were not undergoing proper maintenance, resulting in a fast deterioration of their condition.

She was also critical of the way in which the government was handling the proposed Paceville masterplan, accusing the government of a lack of consultation with other departments and ministries. She said that despite the fact that the plan will require the government to expropriate a number of properties and will also contribute to an increase in traffic, the plan was only being discussed by the OPN and the Planning Authority, with no consultation with the Lands Department or the Transport Ministry.

Portelli also said that she was disappointed that the government had not included any measures relating to the maritime and aviation sectors. Both these sectors she said, are important to the country and require constant development and innovation if they are to remain viable sources of revenue.

Nationalist MP Robert Arrigo spoke of the effect that traffic is having on businesses that rely to some extent of deliveries. As a result of traffic he said, businesses are facing the problem of having to employ more people in order to make up for slower rate at which they are able to deliver goods. This he said would ultimately negatively affect the consumer since these companies would pass on the expense of employing more people onto the consumer. He also said that traffic was having a negative impact on flights leaving Malta with delays being experienced when crew are stuck in traffic, as well as a number of people missing flights for the same reason.

He also criticised the government’s proposed incentives for companies that organise transportation for their employees. He said that the amount that the government was offering was equal to 112 a day, an amount that was not sufficient for companies to organise transport to and from work for employees living all across the island.

Transport Minister Joe Mizzi on his part acknowledged that traffic was a real problem and one that needed the country’s full attention. He pointed out that there were now 22,000 people more people working, more students studying, record number of tourists visiting the island, as well as a number of foreigners who have relocated to Malta to work. On top of this he said, the majority of the population still uses their own personal car regularly.

“Over a two year period, we have had an increase of 30% in car use during peak hours.”

The minister refuted claims that the public transport system was getting worse and instead said that through the work being done by Transport Malta, the public was regaining faith in the system.

He said that 43 million people had used public transport in the last year, up from 40 million people the previous year and 32 million in 2010.

He criticised the PN for acting as though the idea for the introduction of a tram system was a new idea which they had come up with. He pointed out that the idea had already been proposed by Austin Gatt back in 2003.

Mizzi said that over past three years the government had identified problems that in the transport system that were present in the past and had started by correcting these problems. He said that there had previously been no parking strategy or plan for public transport which resulted in people using the service less and less.

He said that the transport ministry’s first priority was to complete all projects that had been started or were in the pipeline adding that in addition to these projects, a number of measures, such as the tidal system, had been introduced to tackle the problem in the short term.

The minister highlighted a number of projects that had been undertaken such as the extension of the Valletta bus terminal, a proposed park and ride in Marsa and bicycle racks being installed in Valletta. He said that the government had tried to find a solution for the problem of heavy vehicles during peak hours however the government had found no help from other stakeholders such as the GRTU.

Mizzi stressed that this was the first time that the country had an extensive transport plan and accused the opposition of criticising the government yet failing to offer any suggestions when it was consulted. 

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