[WATCH] Chris Bonett: ‘Traffic solutions should not burden motorists financially’

Transport Minister Chris Bonett stepped into the hot seat last January to face the perennial concern over traffic congestion, a transport authority beleaguered by scandal and a bus service that has seen higher patronage but no less cars using the streets. He speaks to Kurt Sansone.

Transport Minister Chris Bonett (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Transport Minister Chris Bonett (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

Chris Bonett is adamant that government will not impose financial burdens on motorists in a bid to address traffic congestion problems. 

The Transport Minister insists that “reorganisation and optimisation” of existing roads and services is the way forward to try and mitigate traffic congestion. 

However, he frankly admits as I sit down with him for this interview in his office at Belt is-Sebħ that “no one has the magic wand” that will make traffic disappear. 

Bonett was appointed transport minister in January following a Cabinet reshuffle that saw him catapulted into the hot seat. 

When I ask about plans for a metro, Bonett says from the figures he has seen so far, he is not satisfied that such a massive undertaking will not be a financial burden on the country. 

Instead, he says, the country should be looking at exploiting the sea more. He adds that the introduction of free ferries between Valletta and Sliema, and Bormla earlier this year has seen an upsurge of commuters using the service. 

“The people who used the ferry, either left their car at home, or else drove to the landing place and opted to complete the last part of the journey to Valletta by boat. This is already one car less on the road at a particular time and for part of the journey,” Bonett says. 

The ministry, he adds, is working on a short-term plan that will include several interventions to maximise existing road space and improve services such as the free school transport, which is only used by 40% of students. 

As for the bus service, he says talks are underway with the operator to analyse whether the route network should be amended to cater for today’s needs. He reveals that from Monday 25 March, the Tal-Linja app will be upgraded to allow commuters to see where a bus has arrived. 

With the Planning Authority approving the Msida Creek road project, works on this important junction are expected to start later this year, creating a nightmare scenario for motorists. 

Bonett acknowledges the prospective works will cause inconvenience but says a project manager will be appointed to serve as a contact point for local councils and stakeholders. “We hope that in this way, any issues that may arise will be addressed as quickly as possible,” he says. 

On the Qormi roundabout known as l-Imgħallaq, which has become a bottleneck for traffic passing to Luqa and Żebbuġ, Bonett says Infrastructure Malta will carry out several interventions to improve traffic flow and make the area safer. 

He says the short-term interventions will be similar to the hairpin junctions introduced at St Andrew’s and will be ready by September before schools reopen. However, he adds, the area will be completely overhauled to cater for future traffic demands in the longer term.

The following is an excerpt of the interview.

Follow the full interview also on Facebook and Spotify.

Traffic always figures as a top five concern. Maltese people love their cars and no politician has ever proposed introducing disincentives to personal car use such as payment for on street parking and higher car taxes. At this rate, can we ever solve the traffic problem? 

I will challenge your question because it is as if every solution should require burdening people [with taxes]. I believe there are things we can do [to better manage the problem]… no one has the magic wand that will make the traffic problem disappear. We live in a small cosmopolitan urbanised island and the mentality we must adopt when tackling traffic issues has to be that of a city… there are things that we can have a conversation about that do not necessarily require us to burden people’s pockets… I believe that we have not used the sea enough as a transport means. One of the first decisions taken by this government at the start of the year was to make the harbour ferry services free of charge and the figures show that people are buying into the concept.

But are these people who are leaving their car at home because when buses became free of charge, more people started using them but we did not see a reduction in personal car use? 

We witnessed an increase of 37% in passengers on the harbour ferry services in just two weeks in January and the figures for February are also encouraging. The people who used the ferry, either left their car at home, or else drove to the landing place and opted to complete the last part of the journey to Valletta by boat. This is already one car less on the road at a particular time and for part of the journey…

Do you agree that the driving age should increase to 21? 

Government has no plan whatsoever to increase the age at which one can obtain a driving licence. What we are definitely against is lowering the driving age to 17 as is being proposed by some countries at EU level.

Government is spending millions to subsidise [free] public transport. What is the country getting back in return for this hefty investment? 

It is not a small investment but it is an investment that makes sense… in 2023 we had 17 million more passenger trips over the previous year and in 2022 there were 15 million more passenger trips than 2021… I personally believe that we can do more and there are ongoing discussions with the operator, Malta Public Transport, to improve the service. One of the issues being discussed is whether we should rethink the routes, which were last updated in 2014… the numbers justify the subsidy because if we had not done so, there was the possibility that those additional 17 million passenger trips could have been private car users.

But let’s face it, even the Tal-Linja app does not show you in real time where the bus has arrived, making it difficult for a first-time user to understand when the bus will pass. 

You are correct and we did speak to Malta Public Transport about this and from Monday (25 March) they will be updating their app so that people will be able to see where the bus they are waiting for has arrived, similar to certain apps we use when ordering food. They have been working on this update for some time and I have to salute MPT because they are very receptive. 


Are you happy with how Transport Malta is operating? We have heard of a lot of scandals at this authority over the past years. 

Transport Malta is a large entity that employs around 1,000 workers… the vast majority of workers at TM are dedicated people, who love their work, love their country and want to make a difference. Like every workplace, you had certain situations that could have been handled better…

We had scandals not as you describe them, ‘certain situations’… 

I have to be careful as a minister how to speak about what you are calling scandals because there are ongoing proceedings and I do not want to prejudice anybody’s position…

Are there any changes being done internally to ensure these scandals do not repeat themselves or is TM such a big monster that it cannot be controlled? 

I refute the statement that the authority is too big a monster because it means that we have given up… The good work Transport Malta has done over the years outweighs the inefficiencies there may have been… I have full faith in the board and the new CEO, Col. Mark Mallia and the authority’s processes will be evaluated… our job is to act as quickly as possible when problems arise to ensure they are not repeated.