When anyone undertakes a journey, one explicitly or implicitly considers a number of questions. These include 1) is this journey really necessary? 2) What is the least costly way of undertaking the journey? 3) What level of comfort and convenience do I expect on the journey? 4) How predictable are the journey parameters, particularly journey start time and duration 5) What is the environmental impact of the journey I am taking through the means that I will use? Getting to know how people answer these questions is crucial to improving people’s mobility in the Maltese islands.
Clearly, reducing journey demand by eliminating unnecessary travel is also a desirable objective. Unfortunately, there does not appear to have been any survey conducted on the journeys that people undertake and the reasons why they make them. The availability of online government services and online shopping go some way to reducing journey demand. However other strategies, such as geographically decentralising government offices, promoting teleworking and teleteaching are all approaches which are not being given sufficient attention.
The other issues are all ones which relate to journey parameters. Each person has his own acceptable mix. For some, the cost incurred in making the journey might be the most important factor. For others, time and predictability or comfort could be paramount. Public transport scores well on the cost factor, but less so on the other attributes. Until we devise means of shared transport that come close to the convenience of a car, use of private transport will be resorted to by many. Here again, people’s requirements and expectations is something that can be researched. It might, for example, be ascertained that most people would not mind if their travel time to work through using public transport as against private transport is increased by up to 30% but will find it unacceptable if it is increased by significantly more than that.
Other aspects which could improve people’s mobility without the use of environmentally unfriendly individual private transport have been totally disregarded. Malta could, for example, be an ideal place for electric scooters and bicycles. However, in order for such usage to become popular, consideration needs to be given to any required additional infrastructure, possible fiscal incentives and increasing road safety for cyclists. Likewise, no attempts have been made to encourage car-pooling among employees or to creating affordable shared taxi systems.
Clearly much more needs to be done. As things now stand, the introduction of the Arriva system appears simply to have been an expensive, poorly executed and ill-thought out step which does not appear to have achieved much in terms of improving mobility in the Maltese islands.