Malta’s car population hits worrying record

An average of 28 cars a day registered between June 2013 and June 2014

You don’t need statistics to prove that Malta has a car problem but they make for eye opening reading anyway. A staggering 329,053 motor vehicles are currently licensed in Malta, 58,000 more than were licensed ten years ago. 10,333 vehicles were licensed between June 2013 and June 2014 alone, an average of over 28 a day.

As expected, the vast majority of these (252,547) are passenger vehicles. This means that the car population in Malta has now grown to over half the size of its human population.

In 2010, there were around 579 passenger cars for every 1000 Maltese people, according to statistics website Index Mundi. This left Malta trailing behind only San Marino, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Luxembourg, Iceland, Puerto Rico, Italy, and New Zealand. The rate has since increased to 596.

From an environmental standpoint, the picture gets gloomier. There are only 341 hybrid vehicles, 149 electric vehicles, and 21 battery-operated vehicles on our roads. Only 16 vehicles use liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) as a fuel and only two of those are passenger vehicles.

“Converting petrol to LPG will cut down on benzene emissions, a very dangerous traffic pollutant,” Friends of the Earth Chairperson Edward Mallia told MaltaToday. “Incentives need to be introduced for people who own hybrid and full electric cars too.”

Evidence would indicate that Mallia’s second proposal would work out. Between 207 and 2013, the Netherlands introduced financial incentives, such as a complete exemption from motor vehicle tax, for people who buy low-emitting cars. The results were telling. 5.3% of vehicles bought in the Netherlands in 2012 were hybrid and battery electric ones, relatively miles away from the EU average of 1.2%.

“Enforced fitting of catalytic convertors on vehicles that use petrol as a fuel and particulate filters on vehicles that use diesel will also help mitigate traffic pollution,” Mallia added.

An oft-proposed solution to Malta’s car problem is to improve the public transport system, first and foremost by bringing more buses onto the roads. Interestingly though, EU statistics place Malta as having the best public transport rate out of all the 270 EU, with 4.7 public transport vehicles per 1000 people. Despite this, Malta’s public transport system remains largely unpopular.

“There is a powerful car lobby in Malta, including car dealers, which is always ready to raise an outcry when something appears to dent its very flexible and extensive ‘rights’- such as increases in fuel prices and road tax,” Edward Mallia said. “Yet they are always ready to point fingers when ‘public transport’ commits some folly. There is also resistance to bus and cycle lanes, to lower speed limits, in fact to anything that can be conceived to infringe on the ‘rights’ of the car driver.”

“We need to introduce incentives to persuade a public long accustomed to the private car to switch to public transport in large numbers.”