Last Updated on Thursday, 9 November, 2023 at 3:21 pm by Andre Camilleri
The latest figures on the stock of licensed vehicles in Malta show how much far off we are at solving Malta’s traffic congestion problem. The figures in the table show that the stock of licensed vehicles is not only increasing, but increasing at an alarming rate.
When I read such figures, my mind always thinks about Singapore. Singapore implemented congestion pricing nearly 50 years ago. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Singapore’s population and economy were growing rapidly. With that came a rise in car ownership and congestion, especially in the central business district where employment grew fivefold. To combat congestion, Singapore introduced the Area Licensing Scheme in 1975. Drivers paid a flat fee to enter the “restricted zone” during peak morning hours Monday through Saturday. This reduced congestion in the restricted zone by 20% within the first few months. Although the Area Licensing Scheme initially succeeded at reducing congestion, it faced several challenges by the 1980s. The system’s flat fee failed to account for cars that made multiple trips into the central zone per day. To address these problems, Singapore launched Electronic Road Pricing in 1998. Today, it is a fully automated system that sets rates for drivers to use the road based on location, time of day, vehicle type and real-time speeds. Electronic Road Pricing reduced traffic in the restricted zone and led to more reliable travel times.
Singapore combined congestion pricing with heavy investments in public transit, cycling and walking networks and transit-oriented development. The ultimate result was that Singapore not only eliminated its traffic congestion problem but increased bus and train ridership and decreased greenhouse gas emissions in the city centre. All this was not enough. In the 1990s, Singapore introduced a 10-year certificate of entitlement (COE) for a private car as an anti-congestion measure. Any prospective car owner in Singapore must have a COE in order to be able to purchase a vehicle. Such COEs are sold in auctions every two weeks, with the government controlling the number of certificates for sale. Adding taxes and import duties, the system has made Singapore the most expensive country in the world to buy a car. The final result? Singapore has been ranked as the top city in Asia in terms of quality of living according to global human resource consultancy, Mercer. Singapore is also regarded as the Happiest country in South-east Asia, according to the 2018 World Happiness Report.
The Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry of which I form part, has been repeatedly dishing out proposals to help alleviate Malta’s traffic congestion problem. This includes the introduction of an e-mobility wallet combined with the introduction of parking fees in central urban areas that would allow to have parking fees paid transferred to such an e-mobility wallet that can be then used for more sustainable means of transport. The Malta Chamber has also been advocating for a revised vehicle road licence fee system, that reflects actual usage, thus factoring mileage in the road licence fee.
Change can happen if we want it and if we have the courage to embrace it and pursue it. Change is not easy, but we must all understand the price of not changing is much higher than any discomfort that change brings along.