Traffic chaos has been a perennial, sometimes even tragi-comic, issue within Maltese society. The more congested the roads, the more new and second-hand cars colourise the desperate scenario. No one should expect Chris Bonett to just push a button and hey, presto, you can cruise along the village and town thoroughfares whistling the day away. It just cannot happen.
We are all to blame. Every single one of us who’s bought a car was fully aware of the size of the island, but no one had the right to question us. We’ve all needed cars to get to work, go on family trips and visiting friends and relatives. Getting there on public transport, then still in a very sad condition and run by bare-chested drivers and smoking conductors, was hardly an option. The reasoning was also: if the village doctor, lawyer, and parish-priest had their cars, why not the working class when it suddenly could afford it?
The traffic problem is, of course, equated with the issue of public transport. Manifold unsuccessful reforms were carried out by different administrations, only for the frustration to get even more intense. Fast-forward to 2012 when the then Gonzi administration opted to let Arriva take over our public transport, insisting the new buses (among them Boris Johnson’s infamous bendy ones) with their air-conditioning and electronic ticketing system would solve a huge part of the problem.
Did it? Never was there a bigger fiasco. Had Arriva provided a uniquely efficient service the traffic problem would still not have been solved. But the wisdom of their Maltese fat cats posing as consultants had led to the cancellation of hundreds of old and convenient routes with Malta ending up with an even worse public transport system. We all loyally kept our cars, on roads that had been left, for more than two decades, neglected, unmaintained, and portraying an array of lunar surfaces. We did have visits by the Queen of England and the Pope, though, and the odd road they used to get from one event to the other was quickly given a thin cover of tarmac.
Change of government a year later. First out with Arriva, then the bendy buses, and finally a new company that gradually re-introduced the precious old routes and added many new ones. Today public transport is free, and the service has seen a remarkable increase in passengers, most of whom would otherwise have elicited to buy a car.
Problem solved? Hardly. We live on a minuscule island where space is dreadfully restricted as more and more new cars take to the road. You can’t stop anyone from buying a car. In Singapore, where the same problem exists, the authorities insisted the influx of new vehicles needed to be curtailed, and they chose to introduce a lottery by which citizens who wanted to buy new cars would annually take potluck by hoping to be drawn – from a declared, very limited number – to be allowed to buy them. Luckily for us, or perhaps unluckily, we don’t have that kind of authoritarianism. Ermmm, so the problem stays.
There have been creative minds talking much about alternatives. Small trains, trams, and a Metro system were mentioned as good ways of reducing the number of cars on the road. On one occasion, we even joyously watched a video of a proposed underground system that took you across most of the island in just minutes. This seems to have been shelved, alas. Not only the project would require hefty EU funds, but even what to do with the excavated rock could cause a national dilemma. Land reclamation, which some people oppose in their defence of some unknown sea species, could still be the answer.
An underground system, however small in proportion to the territorial size, will always take years. No button to push there. But it was good hearing Chris Bonett speaking about long-term solutions. Those who clamour for an instant answer are either fomenting political illusions or simply do not realise the enormity of the project.
The long and inevitably frustrating rebuilding of old streets and roads and the opening of new, more driver-friendly, high-road systems somewhat relieved the old national gripe about their condition. Kappara, Marsa, the Central Link, St Andrews, and so many others have seen a remarkable improvement where access and movement are concerned, but they did not solve the problem of congestions where deadlock meets deadlock, time loss, accidents, and psychological desolation.
A glimpse of the details
Some readers found my piece last week on the rapid deterioration of the Maltese Language as somewhat perplexing. I wrote: “We have lost the numbers, the sizes, the prices, the ages, the days, the months, while our academics work hard to make of Maltese for our students, let alone the foreigners wanting to learn it, as hard and as hateful as ever.“
Here’s a glimpse of the details. At all levels of education, students continue to be bombarded with an exaggeration of grammatical riddles and packed syllabi with poetry and prose by a selected few with obvious academic connections.
Parents and students complain the Maltese syllabus is always crammed with texts of poems, short stories, and novels so glum, tragic, and dark that they literally get to hate anything to do with it. They contrast all that with other languages they simply enjoy studying. I can’t say they’re softly killing the Maltese language and its rich literature. It’s more of a hatchet job.
#Main photo: Maltese Roads Traffic Updates