Traffic gridlock

Last Updated on Thursday, 2 May, 2024 at 10:19 am by Andre Camilleri

I was reading that the government plans to consult the public on short-term measures to alleviate traffic during the upcoming summer. This plan is likely to be about some measures to reduce traffic at rush hour. On one hand, I personally do appreciate every effort that authorities take to tackle the huge traffic problem. However, on the other hand, I believe we should stop kidding ourselves that any short-term measure or set of measures is in anyway going to significantly ease the problem. We have been here, when in the recent past the policy adopted was that of widening roads and building flyovers.

Ultimately, the traffic problem on our hands is a simple demand and supply problem. However so far, we seem to only want to deal with the problem from the supply’s end and just do some minimal touches on trying, at best, to distribute demand slightly better. In the meantime, we keep avoiding to tackle the elephant in the room, which is trying to reduce demand, that is, reducing the number of cars on the road. The numbers clearly indicate that to really and significantly start alleviating the traffic problem, we have no option, but to do so.

In the 10-year period from 2012 to 2022, Malta’s resident population had an average annual increase of 2.9%, while the number of licensed motor vehicles had an average annual increase of 3.5%. This means that the number of licensed motor vehicles was, on average, increasing at a faster rate than the increase in the resident population. As shown below, this has resulted in having a licensed motor vehicle every 1.34 persons in 2012 to a licensed motor vehicle every 1.27 persons in 2022.

As one can see we are steadily moving ahead towards a licensed motor vehicle per resident person in Malta. There could be many reasons as to why licensed motor vehicles are increasing at a faster rate than the resident population. One factor could be the growing likelihood of third country nationals, who contribute significantly to population growth, opting to own their own cars. This trend suggests that private car ownership isn’t solely a “cultural” thing, but rather a response to the current conditions and that public transport does not provide a viable long-term alternative even for workers who are here primarily for work and have less complex commutes than the average Maltese resident. It could also indicate that free public transport by itself does not make the service a viable alternative for most people.

Moreover, these numbers indicate that short-term measures, can at best give a very small and temporary relief, whereby such relief would be soon gobbled up if licensed motor vehicles in Malta keep increasing at the rate they have been doing.

The real solution is, as I said, in implementing policies to reduce demand, that is, the solutions implemented by Singapore, intended at making private transport more expensive, while making public transport more efficient. These policies require leadership and courage. As things stand, we are likely to be less than a step away from a total traffic gridlock situation.

It’s becoming increasingly common for a single traffic accident or incident on one side of the island to result in gridlock affecting the whole island. Moreover, the price we will keep paying, from a health and economic perspective, will be too high if we do not adopt these policies. We cannot keep kicking the can down the road indefinitely.

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