Reconsidering Mobility – Questions & Answers

14th April 2023
We had an overwhelming amount of questions submitted during the first module of the Malta Sustainability Forum 2023, ‘Reconsidering Mobility’. We didn’t have time to answer all of them during the live transmission, however we have sourced some answers to your questions from our speakers.

1. The greenest is moving by foot. What can be done to promote and facilitate it in Malta?

Camile Bon: From a top-down approach, transport authorities should prioritise pedestrian-friendly infrastructure over car infrastructure. This will help to create an environment that is conducive to walking. To promote walking, we need more safe, connected, and accessible footpaths. Traffic calming measures should also be implemented in town centres and residential areas to create safe spaces for walking and cycling, where cars are guests on the roads. Examples of such measures include wider pavements, include chicanes, raised intersections, and changes in road textures.

From a bottom-up approach, we can all make small changes in our daily routines to promote walking.

1. We should review our car usage and identify short trips that can be replaced with walking. Given the small size of the Maltese islands, most trips are within walking or cycling distance.

2. We can also learn more about local initiatives by speaking to mobility-related NGOs. For instance, the University of Malta has installed wayfinding totems in the central region to indicate safe walking routes and provide relevant information such as the route, time and distance (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5FBP1vnivo)

3. Additionally, we can contact our MPs and local councils to express our need for walking infrastructure. By doing so, we can demonstrate the demand and influence policy towards creating a more "walkable" environment.

4. We can support community-led initiatives such as walking buses to schools. These initiatives encourage children to walk in an organized manner to school. Volunteering to be crossing guards at the nearby school can also help to create safer walking environment and encourage children and parents to walk to school.

2. Why not create more parking facilities outside city/village centres? Parking garages on the periphery will take vehicles out of the central area, which can then be made pedestrian.

Prof. Maria Attard: This is one potential way of removing parked vehicles from streets which can be otherwise pedestrianised or even upgraded with proper and safe pavements and walking infrastructure. Care should be taken not to increase parking capacity though, as this will increase traffic further in and around the city/village.

3. When will public transport finally adapt itself to cope with the huge increase in population - 25% increase in ten years. It has become impossible to travel by bus.

David Álvarez García: We have increased our fleet with 25 electric buses that will be in operation soon aiming to increase the frequency in areas where demand has increased. Parallel to this, we currently are working together with the Transport Authority in the analysis and review of the transport network to adapt it and modify it to the current needs of mobility that are being requested and to adapt the transport offer to the actual demand that there is.

4. The big problem in Gozo is large trucks. They damage the road, they create congestion, they make more noise. Why can there not be a cap on the size of trucks, especially in Gozo?

Prof. Maria Attard: There could be, especially if Gozo is aiming for decarbonisation by 2030. Gozo can become net zero by allowing only electric trucks or limit the size. A careful study however is required to better understand the impact of this on the island’s economy and goods movement.

5. Currently, numerous officials from all EU members states frequently take the airplane to attend EU committee meetings. Does the EU plan to start organising the majority of such meetings virtually and offer a financial reward to participating officials to attend virtually rather than flying in for the meeting?

Martins Zemitis: Since the outbreak of Covid-19 and in its aftermath, the number of in-person meetings, requiring flying of national officials, across the EU institutions have been reduced significantly. In fact, online meetings have become a norm as mission expenditures have been curtailed. Teleworking from home or from abroad (for a limited time period) have been introduced as normal working practices, helping to cut emissions and reduce commuting time. Of course, not every meeting can be organized remotely, especially those involving sensitive negotiations or protocol obligations.

6. Is it fair to apply financial disincentives to car drivers when they do not have a better alternative?

Prof. Maria Attard: A financial disincentive cannot be introduced by itself. It would completely defy its purpose and cause backlash. A disincentive can be introduced only as part of a wider strategy which includes the provision of an alternative. For example, assess bus capacity and reliability on the network, provide priority for buses, increase capacity and introduce financial disincentives on car use. In that manner, whoever decides to not use the car can access the bus (or ferry, or shared services).

7. Gozo is too small for double-decker hop-on-hop-off buses. Can we change them to smaller buses?

David Álvarez García: The introduction of smaller buses is something that it is being analysed as it could be a solution to interconnect certain localities. The use of smaller vehicles has to be supported by an increase in the frequency of the service aiming to compensate the reduction in capacity that the vehicle has.

8. Students are not just the future, but also the present. Are they being consulted and given the platform to work on projects that will safeguard their future?

Prof. Maria Attard: Students form part of the broader society and have every opportunity to provide feedback. And some do, but more action and ownership is needed among the student population to demand action that is targeted towards the present (current environment health and public transport provision, for example) and the future (climate change concerns for example).

9. There was a Metro plan for 2050, will it still be consistent for implementation?

Prof. Maria Attard: Many “metro” plans have been proposed over the years. My opinion is that we still need to invest in the infrastructure we have already, giving the bus the opportunity to perform. And when it does, look at other, more expensive and long-term infrastructures. But if the excuse for the metro is that, only a metro will make people switch to public transport, I believe it will fail.

Martins Zemitis: The choice of concrete modal mix in transport is a matter of national competence. The EU sets targets with respect to emissions, energy efficiency and renewable energy in various sectors, including transport, and aims to support the modal shift from more to less polluting forms of transport. But there is no universal recipe. For Malta, the Commission has recommended reducing emissions from road transport by addressing traffic congestion through improved service quality in public transport, intelligent transport systems and investing in soft mobility infrastructure. As the development of Metro in Malta would involve very significant investments and face logistical hurdles, the feasibility studies must include a thorough cost-benefit analysis.

10. Our local attitude is to own a car and nothing seems to be stopping this. Everyone wants to be independent, during work hours and after work hours. We are a small island and roads jam fast. Shouldn't personal car usage be taxed? Could vehicular usage be scheduled? E.g. having certain vehicles on the roads at certain times. We could keep updating infrastructure, however are we dealing with the problem at source?

Prof. Maria Attard: I agree on taxing car usage. Our current system taxes car purchase but not much use. This is why people find it difficult not to use the car, as the initial investment is considerable. And usage is still relatively cheap, considering the huge costs (environment, accidents, congestion, climate change, noise, health, etc.) associated with the current car-based transport system we have.

11. Is metro the way forward in your opinions? Why?

Prof. Maria Attard: No, it is not for now. We need to get more people accustomed to using the public transport and be multimodal before we can think of a metro. There are cheaper, shorter-term measures we can undertake in the public transport sphere that we need to do before we think of metro. We first need to give priority to our buses, so that they can effectively operate. Then identify major corridors and invest in something segregated (bus rapid transit or light rail). When we have a considerable population shifting from the car and the islands’ population growing more, then we can start thinking of an underground metro. Keeping in mind that metro systems are very expensive to build, and like other mega projects, they can fail economically, not be delivered on time and cost a lot to the economy. As an island, we need to make sure the economic feasibility is there.

12. What is being done to divert car users to other mobility options?

Prof. Maria Attard: Government is giving incentives such as free public transport, free on-street parking and other discounts. But this will never be enough. There has been no success anywhere, with just dishing out incentives. Disincentives are required to shift. But we also need accommodating systems and infrastructures for alternative mobility options to flourish. The recent departure of nextbike and goto should be investigated to better understand why these options failed.

13. Shouldn't the Government be stepping up its game? Remote working was a blessing, until the post-Covid situation drew employees back to the office. It is a system which works. Why isn't this being promoted and incentivised as part of the strategy, instead of pumping millions into infrastructure which is only accommodating even more vehicles?

Martins Zemitis: The government of Malta, as a part of its Recovery and Resilience Plan, has developed a Remote Working Policy. The policy includes work from home and from a number of remote working hubs and co-working stations. The policy very much supports the EU targets in decarbonizing transport and promoting innovative working solutions. Of course, the remote work ought to be promoted and incentivized to increase its uptake, but the physical pre-conditions are in place.

Prof. Maria Attard: Teleworking has a lot of potential, but it won’t work on its own. It has to be part of a strategy that supports those that telework, and those that don’t (as not everyone can or want to telework).

14. Are there any plans to revise the current bus routes, adapting the routes and frequency to meet the needs of the community maybe through the direct feedback from citizens?

David Álvarez García: Yes, there are. Currently, there are surveys and discussions with different stakeholder being carried out in order to analyse properly the needs of mobility and to gather feedback about what the requests of our customers are. The aim of this exercise is to not just increase in the frequency of some route, like what it is going to happen with the introduction of 25 extra electric buses, also to reconsider the overall transport network to adapt it to such needs.

15. Not all cars are the same. Why do people need large 4-wheel drive cars in Malta? Small is beautiful, especially for cars.

Prof. Maria Attard: This could be controlled through regulation. As a small island we could impose import restrictions, but is this something desirable? I believe that the vision for Malta should be one that is understood by everyone and agreed. People need to understand why big cars have no space on a small island, before a decision is taken to ban them.

16. Following up on the multi-modality discussion, do you believe infrastracture should be the way forward as prime leader?

Dr Andrew Bezzina: The term ‘infrastructure’ is very generic and encapsulates various facets. The right infrastructure, be it:

(a) Bicycle / scooter lanes
(b) Wide pavements
(c) Bus lanes
(d) Charging infrastructure
(e) Ferry quays

is an indispensable cog in the wheel, for the notion of multi-modality to succeed.

Prof. Maria Attard: Infrastructure is critical for multi-modality. Research on elderly shows that no matter how close you locate public transport stops, if the walking infrastructure to get to them is bad, people will stay away from using buses. Walking is the basic form of mobility (even to get to your car), so creating the infrastructure for walking would open up a lot of opportunity for other modes to be successful. Providing more equitable space distribution between modes (space for pedestrians, buses and cars) could be a start. Currently over 72% of our road space is dedicated to cars only!

17. '@Garcia, it will help public transport be more attractive if the network adheres to Nielsen et al's principles. For example, why are buses leaving the same "bus terminus" of different lines at the same time rather than being staggered? (eg Xgħajra, Wied il-Għajn)

David Álvarez García: Current transport network has to be adapted to be able to operate in the way it is described as at the moment one particular is aiming to satisfy different mobility needs with the consequence of creating these issues described. We currently are working together with the Transport Authority to reconsider how the transport network needs to be adapted aiming to solve certain issues like the one described.

18. Wondering how we can have good public transport without accountability? We read all sorts of good stats on public transport but my personal experience has been increasingly more negative. What's an acceptable sacrifice in terms of time/comfort for people to consider when people have the option?

David Álvarez García: The use of any kind of public transport should not be consider as a sacrifice, it should be considered as a solution or a compliment for certain needs of transport that do not necessarily require the use of the private vehicle. In order to improve the experience, we need to offer a more frequent service, a reliable service that it is not affected by the same traffic conditions that the private vehicles, that provides real-time information aiming to help to plan the trip and obviously a transport network that caters for the actual needs of transport.

19. What's an acceptable time frame for a journey eg 5km?

David Álvarez García: It depends the area, as some areas the traffic flow moves to a higher speed than others. Overall it should be slightly more that with the private car, if this one follows the same route as buses cannot pass through the same routes private cars can pass.

20. Does David use the bus for his journeys? Why? Why not?

David Álvarez García: I do use the bus and other type of public transport such as cabs. Personally, I grew up using the public transport so I enjoy the walk to the bus stop and to my destination. Whilst using the public transport, I am able to discover places, areas around me that I do not realise whilst I drive as I am focusing in the road. Also, I like to use it to feel what the quality of the service is and to understand in a realistic way what the problems some customers have to face whilst they are travelling by bus.

21. We need to consider lifestyle in the options. After work hours parents run errands, drop-off and pick-up kids from activities, buy groceries, visit grandparents, collect kids after school... We have a free public transport system, and the problem is still bad. Will any other new transport system solve the problem?

Prof. Maria Attard: The issue with activities is also driven by land use distribution (which dictate travel patterns). If we want to change how much people travel, we need to start land use planning taking in consideration transport. There is currently no land use and no transport planning. There is just processing of development applications, without much attention to the effects these developments will have on infrastructure and transport. This is very evident in our built environment unfortunately.

22. Why not create dedicated bus lanes?

Prof. Maria Attard: Agree. These should be created and ENFORCED!

David Álvarez García: Currently, discussions with different stakeholders are being done specially to discuss this topic. Bus priority measures are important if we want to improve the current transport service and to make it more attractive for the customers.

23. The car contributes highly towards the 'economy'. How can a reduction in this sector be compensated?

Martins Zemitis: Indeed, the transport sector accounts for 5% of EU’s GDP and direct helps to sustain 10 million jobs. However, it also has important negative externalities, for instance, in Malta the costs of health care and insurance due to air pollution and traffic accidents every year account for up to EUR 400 million or 5% of GDP. The sector also generates one third of Malta’s emissions. Thus, it brings both benefits and costs. A modal shift away from a private car to other modes of transport is likely to generate losses in some economic sectors (for instance, for car importers and fuel traders), while making savings in health care expenditure and generating new business niches (such as shared mobility solutions, bicycle, tricycle and pedalec sales).

Prof. Maria Attard: I do not agree that the economy cannot be sustained if we reduce car use. Shifting to teleworking or to the use of walking or buses for one or two days a week would not affect the economy, but it will greatly reduce the impact of transport on the environment and public health. No policy should be anti-car, but should be fair to support equally different modes of transport. Our infrastructure and policy to date encourages and supports only the car!

24. Though I make my weekly shopping from the village I live, how can't I use my private car, coming back home with 3 or 4 shopping bags full of objects?

Prof. Maria Attard: Large shopping trips require a vehicle (owned or rented) but these are not done every day. So short distance trips can be done by walking to the local grocer. It’s being mindful of the impact of going to the supermarket by car every day that will help each one of us to reduce car trips. Planning our shopping is one of them.

25. We often mention that we need to change mindsets. I tend to think that, while ongoing education is critical, we need to focus our efforts on the physical infrastructure. If people can start EXPERIENCING better infrastructure, their mindset WILL change (just like our mindset changes by default when we travel abroad to a walkable city). In this respect, we need to experiment more, possibly using tactical urbanism initiatives… any thoughts on this?

Martins Zemitis: Personal experiences of sustainable mobility can indeed be very powerful in changing mind-sets. This is the main reason why the European Commission is recommending Malta to focus on building safe, segregated and interconnected soft mobility infrastructure (such as biking and scooting lanes and quality pavements). Experiments and pilot projects in urban mobility, such as car-free zones, car-free days, and others, which are evaluated and, if successful, scaled up can be helpful in changing habits and motivating more sustainable mobility choices.

Prof. Maria Attard: Yes agreed. And the needed infrastructure isn’t that expensive either. Ensuring a standard, good quality, safe and accessible pavement is far cheaper than building new car lanes. In addition to that, reducing car speed in village centres requires just a change in legislation. And a programme can be easily rolled out to upgrade our pavements so that walking becomes a pleasant experience. Once this happens gradually, people will choose walking over driving because using the car becomes too difficult (for example parking too expensive or difficult to access at destination).

26. The need for less cars on the road, yet there is the push for Electrification. Electrification in the form of Private Car Ownership, means that we will still carry on the pre-dominant private car ownership model we have now. Is it really the solution to attaining Net-Zero?

Prof. Maria Attard: I do not believe this is the solution for net-zero. Electrification of the vehicle fleet is definitely not net-zero! We burn non-renewable fuels to generate our electricity so it’s definitely not green. Also, the production of electric vehicles is high on emissions. The efforts towards electrification are aimed at reducing the levels of pollution right outside our doors, in the cities that we inhabit. But it is really shifting the problem. In addition, electrification will not solve the problems of congestion, accidents and some health impacts caused by sedentary lifestyles (e.g. the high obesity rates in Malta). So, whilst there is a lot of scope for electrification, it definitely CANNNOT be the only solution/measure to implement towards decarbonisation and sustainable transport.

27. Multi modal - Can I ride my bike and take it up on a bus/taxi?

David Álvarez García: Current transport policy only allows foldable bikes in the bus. It is being discussed whether this can be amended and consider the introduction of a system that would allow any kind of bike to taken in the bus.

Dr Andrew Bezzina: I believe that one can carry a bike on a bus. This is akin to carrying a push chair or wheelchair. When it comes to cabs / taxis, the same notion applies – bikes can be carried in a cab, as long as the rider books the right vehicle category.