07 MAY 2003

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Reducing the number of cars on the road

Julian Manduca
Traffic jams are becoming more commonplace in Malta, they last longer and traffic rage is increasing. The nightmare of static traffic looms large and with more and more cars on the road we may get there sooner than we think.
Malta has one of the highest rates of car ownership in Europe. There are over 260,000 vehicles on Maltese roads increasing by some 7,000 per year. There are more cars per person in the Maltese islands than in any other country in Europe, except for Germany and Italy. One per cent of all households in Malta have five cars or more.
Car owners would all be pleased to see less cars on the road and this can be achieved in one of two ways: restricting car use; increasing the use of public transport.
The first option would not go down at all well with car owners. It may, however, have to be seriously considered and MEPA transport officials have already suggested some restrictions would have to come into force in the coming years.
Improving public transport has long been clamoured for, but improvements have been slow and bus usage continues to decline. The government is committed to improve public transport and at the last Earth Summit at Johannesburg made a commitment to halt the decline of bus use by 2005.
The ultimate objective of the government plan is to bring about a shift in transport use from private road transport to public passenger transport, walking and cycling, so that the share of private road transport in 2010 is no greater than in 2002.
Among the measures being considered are better bus routing and a night service as well as the establishment of controlled parking zones.
The measures in the government plan are probably not ambitious enough, but if the plan is followed through at least a start would have been made.
The Public Transport Association has ideas of its own as to how the service can be improved. Contacted by The Malta Financial and Business Times, Victor Spiteri, president of the Public Transport Authority, said that in the near future weekly and monthly bus tickets will be introduced at reasonable prices for those that do not use the more expensive tourist routes.
On 5 May the installation of ticket checking machines and a course for bus drivers commenced and these machines are expected to be up and running "within a few months."
The bus service still remains unreliable and in many areas no timetables are affixed indicating when buses should pass.
The responsibility for affixing signs lies with the Local Councils, but not only are schedules not affixed, but when, because of road works, certain bus routes, or parts of bus routes are temporarily suspended, no notices are stuck to advise commuters who wait for buses that never come.
New low floor buses are in the process of being purchased and Spiteri told The Malta Financial and Business Times the ATP is "working with the Malta Tourism Authority and the Transport Authority and in July is going to send 10 bus owners for a fifteen day course regarding transport system in the UK, so that afterwards we can use these 10 bus owners to brief the rest.
"In a few weeks time we are going to introduce a system of heritage routes around the island and we are also working on a different night service, especially to the places of entertainment on the island. We are also prepared to invest in the new system of park and ride schemes. "
The bus drivers are also lobbying for improvements and Spiteri said it is their wish to have: "Bus lanes for bus
corridors, so that we can make our service more efficient. Newly built bus termini around the island with facilities such as restrooms, toilets and shower rooms especially now that we have joined the EU."
Spiteri called for greater consultation with the ATP "so that we can eliminate plenty of complaints, especially from the public."

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Editor: Saviour Balzan
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