MP says traffic is costing country's economy €50 million a year

Opposition MP Kristy Debono says traffic is costing the country up to €50 million a year

Photo: Chris Mangion
Photo: Chris Mangion

The traffic congestion problems are costing the country economy up to €50 million, opposition MP Kristy Debono said.

Adressing Parliament, the MP said that based on conservative and “realistic” estimates, traffic is costing the country’s economy around €50 million a year.

Quoting a report by eCubed Consultants, Debono said that an avergae hour of work costs just over €15 while an hour of leaisure costs €4.61.

She explained that based on the total of gainfull occupied people in Malta, which according to the latest NSO statistics stands at 170,548, “if every worker spends an hour a week in traffic in their private vehicle or public transport, it is costing the country between €45 million and €50 million.”

She added that traffic was not only coming at an economic cost but it was also potentially discouraging foreign investors.

Moreover, the traffic congestions which have become a daily nightmare for motorists could have an impact on tourism the MP said.

Debono also floated the idea of channelling the government subsidies for public transport directly to the people.

Noting that government subsidies, which this year reached €30 million, work out at €176 per gainfully occupied person a year, could be instead spent on tokens for the free use of public transport.

“My argument is pretty simple…the millions which have been funding a system which is far from efficient, why don’t we give the money directly to people in tokens for free public transport?”

This would incentivise people to use public transport, reduce traffic congestion and promote a culture change, the MP said.

Earlier, opposition MP Toni Bezzina today accused government of being “rudderless” in the transport sector and said the promised good governance has been replaced by “incompetence.”

As Parliament debated the budget estimates for the transport ministry, Bezzina said minister Joe Mizzi was attempting to take everybody for a ride over the award of the public transport contract to Spanish company Autobuses de Leon.

Referring to Mizzi as “the minister for traffic,” the opposition MP said the minister’s visit to Spain in August was in breach of the conditions laid down in the call for expressions of interest.

“How can the minister expect to be believed when he said that he was in Spain to verify facts without discussing matters with the Spanish company?” Bezzina asked.
In summer, Mizzi flew to Spain to visit the company’s headquarters before the preferred bidder was chosen and Bezzina said the conditions clearly stipulate that contact with any bidder was not permissible and clarifications should be carried out via email or fax.

“But this government has no rules and it does as it desires,” Bezzina said, adding “how can you verify things in Spain without holding talks with the company?”

The MP added that the government decision to phase in the takeover by the Spanish company was also in breach of the conditions laid down in the expression of interest document.

Last month, Island Buses filed an injunction against Transport Malta and the Transport Ministry in an attempt to stop it from concluding any deal or signing an agreement on the provision of the new bus service.

Island Buses claim that the entire process to choose the operator was "null" and "vitiated" from the outset since Transport Malta had shifted the goalposts and was now discussing conditions which were previous ruled out. 

In 2015, Autobuses de Leon will be receiving €23 million in government subsidies and Transport Malta has said that the actual annual subsidy will be substantially higher once the full service, with new routes, was rolled out.   

Insisting that public transport employees were “dejected” Bezzina said government should refrain from turning the issue into a political one and ensure that the process is transparent.

He also hit out at the lack of budget measures concerning the aviation industry and slammed Mizzi for raising expectations over oil exploration.

Bezzina also accused Mizzi of incompetence in completing the City Gate parliament building, which was due to be inaugurated in October. He said Mizzi “cannot blame the delays on the previous government because the delays are the result of his incompetence.”

Opposition MP Censu Galea also criticised Mizzi for the delays in a number of infrastructure projects and the lack of proper public consultation.

He also criticised Transport Malta’s failure to come up with mitigation plans for the increase in traffic congestions in the northern part of the island.

New Parliament is PN’s monument of ‘incompetence’ – Mizzi

In his customary feisty demeanour, transport minister Joe Mizzi rebutted the opposition’s criticism on public transport by accusing the PN of “hypocrisy.”

He said he was surprised by the court injunction since “nobody filed an appeal” during the adjudication process.

Stressing the importance of adding more vehicles and drivers, Mizzi expressed optimism in the new operators.

“It will take time, but I am confident that we will have an efficient and viable system.” 

On his visit to Spain, Mizzi said this wasn’t in breach of the conditions.

“I only went to verify things because unlike you, we (Labour) love the country and we wanted to make sure that we’re not duped.”

In reaction to criticism on infrastructure projects, Mizzi said “We will implement our electoral programme and ensure that the uncompleted projects which we inherited from the previous government are finally completed.”

Listing the projects completed under his watch, Mizzi said that the new Parliament building at City Gate was in “shambles” and €7 million over budget.

“I never gave any timeframe and the only deadlines in place where the ones decided under the previous government,” Mizzi said, adding that the opposition “should be ashamed for its incompetence. It is your monument of incompetence and a waste of money and you have the gall to blame us for your incompetence.”

Turning to oil exploration, Mizzi said that in the two years the Labour administration has been in office, it had done more than the previous government did in five years.

He said that despite the oil well at Hagar Qim had been closed, Mizzi said “you’ll only find oil if you look for it.”

On traffic congestion, Mizzi said the opposition was only good at “disturbing” government and tried to give an impression that traffic was not a problem under the previous government. 

Insisting that his ministry was holding two meetings every week with the police and expressed confidence that the real time traffic management system which is in the pipeline and other measures government is taking will resolve the problem.