We deserve a monorail mass transit solution

Author: George Mangion
Published on Malta Today, 10 September 2015

monorailBuilding super highways is always mooted as a partial solution in traffic nodes where excessive blockage occurs and one hopes that this winter will see the commencement of the long awaited Kappara busy junction. Many party apologists wax lyrical praising this government, saying it is meeting all its promises, yet others agree that it is successful in improving the economic and social fabric to enable some of the promises to be implemented while conceding that the more ambitious ones can wait.

But the opposition cry out loud high from rooftops saying that problems faced by commuters due to mushrooming of traffic is a real problem and not a mirage, so they forcibly blame the government that it has let grass grow under its feet without reaching for the lawn mower.

It is true that signs of affluence are everywhere to be seen and the fact that families now boast of three to four cars each has quickly exacerbated the need for a faster road network in an island which has not grown in size but now attracts four times its population by way of visitors (not mentioning cruise liners and excursion lovers)  and is fast joining the list of busy European cities which are facing saturation levels in the number of cars and light vehicles using the road network. Just remember that Malta is a country with the highest population density in the EU, with a population density average of 1,325 persons per sq. km. compared to the EU average of 117 persons per sq. km.

Naturally many solutions were discussed by commuters, such as building an underground rail system or linking Sliema to Valetta to Cottonera by fast ferry boats. Building super highways is always mooted as a partial solution in traffic nodes where excessive blockage occurs and one hopes that this winter will see the commencement of the long awaited Kappara busy junction.

Can a short term solution lie in applying for funds which are available under the European Fund for Strategic Investments? Such a fund is expected with three years to inject some €315 billion in EU member states. In fact, last year it was reported that a list of potential projects was submitted by Malta for funding which included the construction of a monorail project involving over-ground and underground lines running North-South and West-East, intersecting at key traffic junctions and feeding at its various stops into other above-ground public transport means. The estimated cost of the 70km service line will be €1.42 billion, and when functional will revolutionise mass transit – a cataclysmic change to the daily commuting of school children and early morning commuters who at present clog the traffic at all its busy nodes.

Execution would take to place in four phases each involving a duration of 24 months so that the first phase would be completed by end 2018 (which happens to coincide with the festivities marking Valletta as the cultural city in Europe). Consideration would be given to using the rails and tunnels of the Malta Railways which was a train service from Valletta to Mdina which started in 1882 and was mothballed in 1931 when private car transport rendered the train service superfluous.

Studies undertaken by Transport Malta show that commuters spend at least 30 minutes daily of productive work or social quality time, being wasted blocked in traffic. A tangible improvement in monorail travel may also stimulate the much desired increase in female labour participation as parents can reliably plan the daily commute of their children to school/kindergartens rather than having to drive them back and forth individually.
Naturally, opponents of the monorail will argue that our narrow streets cannot permit such a monstrous rail system, which is expected to travel at speed on overhead pylons, and equally vociferous will be those who live in villas facing the street as they will complain of a lack of privacy – fancy sitting upstairs in bed with windows open for fresh air when monorail carriages speed across with passengers waving as you quickly rush to close the windows.

If ever it becomes a reality, critics predict it would be another White Elephant. Not really – studies show that the monorail will be the “ultimate solution” for urban mobility. Ideally it will intersect at a core traffic junction, with various stops feeding into other over-ground public transport and it can drastically diminish carbon dioxide emissions. Otherwise in our hectic life, few stop and contemplate how the proliferation of traffic is directly attributed to recently acquired affluence by households which are finding good jobs and have a higher propensity to spend in entertainment, food, mobile telephony, travel and of course are tempted to buy second hand (almost brand new) imported cars.

For most commuters, taking a Sunday drive along the dual lane new coast road will be a blessing once Autumn sets in and the temperature cools down a notch. Yet really and truly the perceived affluence is tangible and not ephemeral – just read the official statistics showing that the trade deficit in July stood at €222.3 million, down by €77.4 million when compared to the corresponding month of 2014. Imports declined by €58.2 million while exports registered an increase of €19.1 million.

This is a testament, if one were needed, to show that the government is business friendly and its policy attracts new jobs at a time when larger EU countries are reporting unemployed rates almost double ours. Eurostat figures show that Malta had the second lowest unemployment rate in the EU, at 5.1%. At this point the opposition sees red and lambasts the government that such improvement in the jobs market is misleading since it reckons this is due to massive intake of state employees.

Yet official statistics claim otherwise – that eight out of every 10 new jobs actually belong in the private sector whereas jobs created in the public sector were principally needed in the health and education sectors. Quoting from official sources one notes that Domestic Product (GDP) for the second quarter of 2015 showed an increase of 7.3 per cent over the corresponding period last year, which after adjusting for inflation represents 5.2% increase in real terms.

More exemplary results can be found in the growth in Gross Value Added (GVA). Here it is reassuring to observe that it was mainly generated by professional, scientific and technical activities, administrative and support service activities, which increased by 18.1 per cent. Another economic sweetener is the 25% reduction in energy tariffs for families, now in its second year while there is a sense of feel good factor among citizens when they view the list of new capital projects announced since the election.

Yet according to the opposition, this improvement in the general standard of living is not tangible, claiming that Maltese families do not feel the effect of the positive figures. In a recent statement the opposition are distrustful of such good tidings and recently issued a statement declaring “It’s useless for Muscat to boast about the numbers when it is only the chosen few who can enjoy the positive performance of the economy.” One can be fooled to think that this is a Cartesian doubt scenario when the party in government talks to its faithful about the progress it achieved during the legislature which is still in its mid term.

It blows its trumpets saying how it can boast of higher quality of living, not to mention capital projects such as the opening of a new Oncology hospital, the massive Chinese investment in Enemalta, and the popularity of the Individual Investor Programme, adding projects like Bart’s Medical University, the new hospital at SmartCity, the American University of Malta and record arrivals of tourists partly due to a gradual improvement of the island facilities.

To conclude one hopes that the ambitious objective to improve traffic congestion will succeed and that the Commission will look favourably to Malta’s request for part financing of the monorail system – the rest of the funds being sourced from the private sector.

Author: George Mangion
Published on Malta Today, 10 September 2015
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