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Promoting green staff travel

The Planning Authority has rolled out in-house incentives to reduce its employees’ dependance on cars. Peter Gingell explains.

In the last Budget the government announced measures for employers to encourage them to offer incentives to their employees to commute to work in a green way.

In the last Budget the government announced measures for employers to encourage them to offer incentives to their employees to commute to work in a green way.

Persuading people to give up their cars will almost certainly only happen if there is some form of incentive or viable alternative. The Planning Authority is offering its employees incentives to commute to work in a green way.

The authority launched the project around a year ago, starting off with a questionnaire sent to its 400 staff. This was compiled to explore feasible green travel options given that staff members have different commuting patterns.

It subsequently introduced various schemes for its staff, ranging from a minibus service, to free top-up Tallinja cards, and incentives for those who commute by walking, have bicycles, scooters or who car-pool.

Another benefit is the refund of the cost of a block ticket for the ferry across Marsamxett or Grand harbour. Transport is provided from the ferry landing to the PA offices in Floriana to further facilitate uptake of this travel option.

Other measures include the provision of an emergency car, so that staff who only use their car just in case they have to leave quickly to attend to an emergency would be ferried quickly should the need arise, and the increased deployment of electric or hybrid cars.

It has also introduced a wider flexitime period, from 6 to 9am so that staff can time their arrival to avoid the peak of the morning rush hour. Additional measures are contemplated in future.

It is well known that green travel measures are most applicable to staff who regularly arrive and leave work at the same time and do not need to run errands on the way to or from work. Last summer, the authority organised, and paid for, two minibuses, one collecting staff from the north and one from the south. To make it viable, the commute had to be as short as possible, so it set the times before the morning rush hour.

Since the authority has extended flexi­time to its staff, they were able to start and end earlier. The service had an appeal to a sector of its staff. The earlier journey time also translates into spreading traffic away from the morning rush hour.

“It was oversubscribed in summer but before we extended it, we wanted to see how it works in winter when people might have children’s school times and after-school activities to take into consideration,” said architect Frans Mallia. The mini-bus trial has therefore been extended till December, after which a decision would be taken to modify where necessary and have a service of a more permanent nature.

The incentives have so far persuaded around 40 members of staff to leave their cars at home in favour of using public transport. The incentive is offering up to €26 a month top-up of the Tallinja card. This means that public transport for these employees is practically free, and the benefit extends beyond office hours.

The effect would be much more significant if the example is emulated by other entities in the public and private sector

To encourage people who cannot use public transport to use less polluting means of transport, those who use motorcycles, scooters or bicycles, as well as those who walk, get €312 a year.

“The concept is to allow these employees to keep their options open. So if, for example, it is too hot to walk or it is raining and you do not want to use a scooter, then the subsidy will cover the cost of alternative green transport, such as the bus,” Mallia said.

“The measure has encouraged a number of people who live nearby to actually walk to work.” Walking and cycling also have the added benefit of exercise apart from reducing the car load from our roads.

Of course, some people may still use their cars. Another measure that the authority considered to reduce car numbers was through car-pooling. Another ‘carrot’ was to offer reserved parking for those who car-share with at least one passenger. Another option being considered is to offer a number of company cars for use to commute – as long as they car-pool with at least two other people.

The measures will help reduce the number of vehicles on the road and the associated need for parking spaces, promote the use of more environmentally friendly vehicles, and reduce the need for travel. Naturally they will have only a small impact on traffic and parking loads but the effect would be much more significant if the example is emulated by other entities in the public and private sector. There would be advantages are if different organisations team up to take advantages from economies of scale.

Mallia said: “Cars take up much more space than people realise. On average, a car requires an estimated 200m2 of road if it travels at 80kph. The space includes not just the car footprint but also the safety distance from other cars. If lateral distances between adjacent lanes are taken into account then the figure is even higher. Parking also takes a lot of space.

“When using private vehicles, parking is required at each location where the car stops and the driver temporarily leaves the car. This applies to home, places visited, like offices and shops, visits to relatives or friends, and so forth. Efficient use of space is even more relevant in Malta where space is so limited and where there are more private cars than driving licences.”

Mallia added that Malta has the second most dense transportation network in the world. Since the 1980s, the amount of roads built has been phenomenal as the island has tried to keep up with the increase in demand for cars. While he admitted that there is no replacement for the comfort and flexibility offered by the private car this was only applicable as long as there is no congestion and one finds somewhere to park. “We also have to bear in mind that it is also practically the most expensive means of transport,” he said.

As part of its remit of sustainably regulating land use, Mallia said the Planning Authority has taken green travel possibilities very seriously, including understanding the impact of traffic and roads. Land transport features prominently in spatial planning so the PA feels obliged to contribute to research and where possible implement measures that promote green travel. It also consults Transport Malta while determining development applications and assessing the traffic impact of larger projects.

“The government is actively trying to tackle this issue and actually announced measures for employers in the last Budget. If companies want to take up the idea of organising alternatives for their employees, we are in a position to help them based on first-hand experience and share our model with them.”

The PA has already established contacts with other entities to share what it has learnt so far from its green travel trials. For example, it has established contact with the Environment and Resource Authority to explore commonalities and experiences.

For further information call Robert Galea on 2290 1048 or e-mail gtp@pa.org.mt.

Peter Gingell is communications and PR manager, Planning Authority.

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