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Where we must go sustainably

Traffic jams stifle economic activity and drive investment elsewhere. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Traffic jams stifle economic activity and drive investment elsewhere. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Land, air and sea transport around urban areas have been well studied globally yet there is still very little literature that deals with these concerns in small islands.

The targets are to halve the use of conventionally-fuelled cars in urban transport by 2030 and phase them out of cities altogether within 38 years
- Anne Zammit

Putting research on transport into practice was the theme at the first national conference to be held by the University’s Institute for Sustainable Development (ISD) last month.

Supporting relevant and timely research with an interdisciplinary approach to drive policy decisions is the institute’s motto. Opening the conference, ISD director Maria Attard noted that sharing information gained from research would help the institute engage with the wider community.

A hands-on approach was immediately apparent as conference participants were offered the option of either test driving a Mitsubishi electric vehicle in the Smart City car park or opting for pedal power with a test ride on a sample bicycle.

Later in the day Dr Attard spoke on how the park-and-ride system was performing within a changing transport infrastructure.

The institute has been operating for four years now. Within the past year it has struck up a conversation with industry on raising awareness of diversity in transport.

High levels of private car ownership is putting a huge strain on sustainability in Malta, affecting air quality, public health and the tourism product.

Traffic congestion inhibits movement, affects economic growth and causes air pollution.

The Ministry for Infrastructure, Transport and Communications recognises that all these factors have to be managed with a sustainable objective in an urban reality.

Malta’s growing cruise liner, freight hub and air transport sectors play no small part. By 2050, 40 per cent of aviation fuels must be low-carbon, and emissions from maritime bunkering must be halved.

Europe must aim to reduce dependence on oil with a cut of 60 per cent in emissions by 2050. Within this context it is no longer controversial to argue for sustainability.

The targets are to halve the use of conventionally-fuelled cars in urban transport by 2030 and phase them out of cities altogether within the coming 38 years.

Not all journeys are necessary. As an example, the question was asked: “Is it necessary for every soft drinks supplier to have its own distribution service?”

The complexity of travel patterns must be studied in depth.

Walking, although stigmatised, is the most sustainable means of travelling, remarked a Transport Ministry representative. He pointed out that pedestrians in the core of Valletta had been given a safe space to make journeys on foot.

The new Barakka lift has cut what was previously a 15-minute journey down to 26 seconds.

Intelligent transportation systems are already being used in a few areas for speed control. Next year a traffic management control centre is expected to be operating in real time with digital road signs giving priority to emergency vehicles and public transport.

Many people seem to accept congestion, observed Stephen Ison, professor of transport policy at Loughborough University, UK.

Acceptance by the public of road pricing is invariably accompanied by the question: “What is the revenue used for?” and “Is it ring-fenced for improvement of transport means?”

Electrical engineering graduate Luana Zammit presented a mathematical model for traffic flow. Modelling how the public looks at public transport was tackled by Therese Bajada. Emmanuel Sinagra spoke on traffic-related pollutants at Msida. Using shareable taxis in a dial-a-ride system available to anyone with a smartphone was discussed by Adrian Muscat.

A look at computer vision technology for traffic junction safety was presented by Angelo Dalli, who is part of the successful team behind the controlled vehicular access system in Valletta.

A multi-stakeholder approach that includes civil engineers, administrators, transport planners, geographers and the IT sector would lead to transport decisions being taken on a sound basis of quality information. Architect Odette Lewis gave an analysis of the kind of networking needed to share road transport information.

The Malta experience with low-cost airlines over a six-year period was investigated by Alfred Quintano, who believes a separate air transport policy is needed based on a level playing field. More burden-sharing was needed among stakeholders, he said, especially Malta International Airport.

Winter tourism has increased but so has summer tourism, so the seasonality gap remains. “Branding is not just changing the colours on your plane,” he remarked.

Opening the afternoon session, Resources Minister George Pullicino referred to the target for 5,000 electric vehicles (EVs) in Malta by 2020.

According to Cathy Macharis, a professor of transport economics and operational research at the Dutch Vrije Universiteit in Brussels, the market potential for small, medium and large electric vehicles is now ready for take-off.

“Park-and-ride measures and promoting public transport won’t be enough to meet the carbon targets without more environment-friendly vehicles in our car fleet to lower emissions,” claimed Prof. Macharis.

The range of EVs had expanded to 260km, 370km and 480km depending on the type of battery used. Most car manufacturers now produce a small, medium or even a sports model in the EV line.

The integrated transport strategy directorate at Transport Malta is enthusiastic about a European regional development programme for EV charging points in ports as part of cross-border co-operation between Italy and Malta. Fast charging stations are to be installed at the ports of Valletta and Catania.

A research platform, Connect Baltica, looks at developing user-friendly passenger and freight services for ferry, rail and road operators in the Baltic Sea region.

Malta enjoys an influential position in the middle of this “highway in the sea to Africa,” said CB managing director Christopher Demuth.

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