For as long as anyone can remember, traffic in Malta has been a problem.
We’ve invested in wardens and road inspectors. We’ve drafted countless policy documents, and invested millions of Euros to subsidise public transport and build new roads. But we are still stuck.
That’s because to unclog our roads, we first need to disentangle Transport Malta.
Hiving off land transport from Transport Malta and setting up a new dedicated roads regulator would be a significant step towards tackling one of the biggest obstacles the country faces today: traffic.
The idea isn’t farfetched.
In fact, it was already put forward by the government five years ago.
In 2018, then transport minister Ian Borg announced plans to split TM into three separate sea, land, and air regulators. Promising greater focus and efficiency.
Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Azzopardi had even been appointed to chair a committee of experts that was tasked with managing this three-way split.
A full political cycle later and little has been heard about this. It would seem the plug was quietly pulled.
To be fair, transport policymakers face a nightmarish scenario.
Thickening population density, insufficient infrastructure, and disappointing uptake of transport alternatives.
All of which push people to stick with their private car, adding more and more vehicles to an overstretched network.
Diluted focus and compromised effectiveness
But the question remains. If cities and dense urban areas across the globe have cultivated functional transport systems, why can’t we?
While a lot rests on us as individual drivers of change, Transport Malta also plays a central role in all of this.
There are compelling arguments for unravelling the intricate web of transport regulation and establishing an independent road transport authority that can prioritise, specialise, and catalyse Malta’s land transport system to its fullest potential.
This is not to say that the maritime and aviation sectors do not deserve dedicated attention. They are important economic sectors within themselves.
But though there is an argument that shore-to-shore ferries play a role in Malta’s land transport mix, there is no reason why these two sectors should not also have their regulatory reference point that is separate from road transport.
A dedicated land transport authority
It is also worth pointing out that since its inception, Transport Malta has never had a chief executive who is an expert in land transport.
Instead, it has always been headed by someone from the maritime sector. With the brief exception of one CEO from the aviation sector.
A dedicated land transport authority would not only navigate the maze of road safety, licensing, and traffic management but also proactively address the evolving needs of public transportation, emerging tech solutions, and infrastructure development.
It would also allow for greater synergy with Infrastructure Malta, the roadworks agency with which it needs to work hand in hand.
In summary, the one-stop-shop of land, sea and air transport has become entangled in the complex dynamics of managing diverse transport sectors.
What we’ve been left with is diluted focus and compromised effectiveness.
This is despite the hard work of some truly dedicated TM officials.
A split would untether the road transport sector, enabling streamlined decision-making, resource allocation, and policy implementation.
This newfound agility could pave the way for enhanced safety, reduced congestion, and optimised transport services.
In an era of rapid technological advancements, a regulator with a clear mandate and unambiguous responsibility that really gets tech is also sorely needed.
Our transport system is failing
Governments have taken these types of decisions in the recent past.
Somewhere between the 2013 and 2020 political cycles, a policy decision was taken to address Malta’s infrastructural deficit.
As the economy accelerated, the island’s population, construction, and traffic density all swelled in tandem.
In the face of this, the administration decided to dedicate hundreds of millions of euros towards upgrading the country’s crumbling road network.
At the time there was debate about the validity of this as a policy imperative.
Would freshly laid roads and flyovers actually solve traffic? Or were these projects just another vehicle for facilitating economic growth?
Now that the asphalt has set, it is clear that this infrastructural upgrade was in fact needed.
But it is also apparent that wider and smoother carriageways and new tunnels were never going to address the reasons our transport system is failing.
To do that Malta needs a regulator focused exclusively on land transport.
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