TRAFFIC JAMS……TRAFFIC JAMS…..TRAFFIC JAMS….. LONGING FOR THE OLD HORSE ‘N CART DAYS
Humanity is never, ever happy. When they review their ‘where am I right now’ now status quo there are either nostalgic look-backs on the old days as being “those were the days” or otherwise there are projected looks into the future as in “if only…….”
Let me bore you with some statistics. Malta’s swollen population I now estimate to be something in the region of 430,000 crammed into a few kilometres by a few kilometres of which between 20,000 and 30,000 I estimate to be non-Maltese. That is a problem; however, that is not THE PROBLEM.
The problem is that a population of 430,000 has 350,000 licensed vehicles on the road – all crammed into a few kilometres by a few kilometres and licences being issued at the rate of 40 new vehicles a day. I leave the maths to you because this was always my duffer subject but when one eliminates all the under-18s who do not have a licence, those too elderly to drive, those like myself incapable of driving and those with disabilities, the island has already reached a stage where every adult owns and drives a vehicle.
Having long ago reached the dubious statistic of being one of the most over-populated countries in the world we can now also add a further dubious statistic of being one of the most over-vehicled.
Years and years of bad planning and neglect of an ever-growing problem for a figuratively always dwindling land mass being eaten by continual development, the traffic crisis has now reached colossal proportions and has left administrators and drivers strutting around like headless chickens.
The problems are multi-complex and will not easily be solved because the years of neglect have landed fairly and squarely in the lap of a new administration which is struggling to get to grips with the problem and frequent spectre of total gridlock and the consumption of precious time spent in traffic jams.
This is estimated to be costing the country’s economy millions of euros annually besides creating deep frustrations in people with a short-tempered Mediterranean temperament who do not accept adversity or delays lightly. Bicycles, scooters and motorcycles have assumed a growing popularity but unfortunately so has the accident rate on this means of transport.
Road transport began to hot up in the early 1920s and 1930s and a faster pace of life saw the increase of motor vehicles – for those that could afford them. For those that could not – Malta’s own transport entrepreneur Mr Joseph Gasan stepped in and introduced bus transport at cheap fares which burst into popularity overnight.
This form of public transport also underwent its own evolution. At the time illiteracy was still rampant. Placards showing route destinations and numbers were useless. Instead, different coloured buses denoted different routes. The red bus went to Hamrun and Birkirkara; the light green buses to Sliema; the light/dark blue bus to Mellieha and the orange and green buses to Zejtun. They were a dash of colourful splendour on Malta’s roads.
In stepped Malta’s then Prime Minister Mr Dom Mintoff in the early 1970s who deemed the colour schemes had remained a remnant to the dark days of illiteracy and ordered all buses to be painted green and some years later a gaudy orange-yellow.
Over the years bus ownership became the domain of a number of private operators, some of them still using buses that had been in operation since World War II.
Four years ago the “Arriva tsunami” hit the Maltese islands when the previous Government handed public transport to the international company Arriva in what resulted to be an expensive, controversial and mainly ineffective and crippling transformation. Arriva called it a day and pulled out and public transport is currently run by a Spanish company which remains mysterious in that it manages but remains low profile.
The “Arriva tsunami” was a main contributant to finally setting the foundation for gridlock, a status that had been building over the years anyway with the Government not paying any attention to it, indeed boasting that increased vehicle ownership showed economic affluence. Arriva’s re-routing and services were so atrocious that great numbers abandoned public transport and resorted to their own vehicles. The seal was set and has remained set today.
However, besides the logistical statistics of vehicle volumes, there are added complications because of lack of enforcement in traffic regulations and everybody claiming a “right of way” to ensure they do get their way. Garbage collection has to be daily in Malta because of the normally hot weather but contractors collect garbage during peak traffic times and throughout the day, causing delays and jams. Enormous construction trucks ply the narrow roads during peak times, carrying large concrete beams and construction material. Shop deliveries (in a country where every other building is a shop, particularly main street areas) take place during peak times, stopping in the middle of the road to make deliveries.
All claim their “right of way” and the authorities are loathe to interfere because these are sensitive vote areas and approaching General Elections are always at the forefront of political planning.
Add to all these complications a glut of vehicles, large buses, private coaches and great non-observance of road regulations and the pot pourri produces – gridlock.
Spectacular fantasies are occasionally mooted by various authorities like overhead monorails, underground tunnels and God knows what else, innovations that would take years to come to fruition whereas the problem requires now-to-now solutions.
And as if this were not enough, as you are reading this, Malta is hosting an EU-African Nations Summit on Immigration in the presence of scores of heads of government, their delegations, media journalists and naturally stringent security. This requires road closures to general traffic (for security) and therefore more rampant congestion. And CHOGM has yet to come later in the month!
These two top-level meetings have been the butt of sarcasm because various roads have been closed prior to the meetings for re-surfacing and maintenance works and therefore even more complications.
In a country of a few square kilometres by a few square kilometres it has become more sensible to walk from wherever to wherever rather than attempting to do it in a vehicle!