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The Gozo connection - Steve Pace

Mention accessibility and immediately a bridge and a tunnel spring to mind. As Gozo reaches its limit in taking in visitors, and possibly an all-time record of tourists, the mounting pressure of accessibility becomes all the more relevant.

As I sit in my car waiting for the next ferry, making my way home, I watch the gleaming faces of the hundreds of people waiting patiently for the next boat. To my right, many commercial vehicles wait to get to their base. As the ship berths, the controller signals to the waiting cars to start moving as the drivers to my right watch helplessly and in increasing frustration as their chance to board diminishes.

Having been waiting there, watching two or three ferries arrive and leave, one of the truck drivers approaches me and vents his anger at the way the commercial sector is being treated. This is not just a return journey issue but also the starting point of every commercial vehicle from Gozo making its way to Malta.

They are forced to struggle through the long delays to board from Gozo, and arriving in Ċirkewwa, they experience the long, winding roads and endless traffic jams, taking more than two hours to reach certain destinations in the south of the island.

Exhausted drivers have to make multiple journeys, ferrying more material and taking their loaded vehicles back to Gozo.

This matter has been raised often, and as we see the promise of a fourth ferry disappearing in the distance, it seems the resolution of such a simple issue remains out of reach. This is making it impossible for the Gozitan commercial sector to exist in a competitive world.

A holiday destination for the many and a prison cell for the few

There seems to be no realisation that the Gozitan commercial sector needs to travel to the south of Malta using a commercial sea transportation system and without facing hefty fuel bills, delays and traffic congestion. Gozitan truck drivers need to have better conditions within which to operate, as this will, ultimately, mean reduced costs, giving Gozitan businesses a fair and level playing field.

There has been so much talk of making Gozo more accessible, yet making Malta accessible to the Gozo commercial sector is rarely considered.

Another aspect to bear in mind is banking services. Banks in Malta seem to be little concerned with offering clients an adequate service in Gozo. Two main banks offer four ATMs in one major road, but the rest of the island practically has no such services at all.

As the huge volume of traffic makes its way towards Victoria, the ATMs in Republic Street are impossible to access. The other near it-Tokk is just as useless, because there is no place to park your car.

I just cannot come to terms with the fact that the two larger banks in Malta and Gozo are unable to introduce ATM services at the Xewkija industrial estate, in Sannat, Għarb, Żebbuġ and other strategic areas, which are far more accessible and populated with so many tourists.

During the two main feasts in Victoria, Triq ir-Republika takes centre stage for so many activities.

Unavoidably, it stops functioning as a main arterial road and all traffic is diverted through side roads. People attempting to leave the north side of the island, mainly from Kerċem, Għarb, San Lawrenz and Dwejra, are met with the oncoming wave of traffic making its way to the opposite direction, as bottlenecks keep being mismanaged in a cataclysmic manner.

Parking is allowed on both sides of Triq Qalb Ta’ Ġesu, leaving absolutely no room for the traffic to pass freely. No effort is made to control the traffic congestion and to ease the flow.

Coming from Kerċem, the narrow road to Victoria is closed and the only remaining viable route is through Triq l-Imgħallem. Arriving there, it is just a matter of luck what one might encounter as a result of the bottleneck in the tight entrance to Triq Ta’ Wara s-Sur.

As we consider the element of accessibility, I cannot but mention the annual taking over of the few parking spaces reserved for people with disabilities in Triq ir-Republika. The huge wooden feast structures occupy those spaces. The sign indicating the reserved parking is covered, in the hope people will not think such parking slots actually exist.

These are some of the realties we Gozo residents face every day.

A holiday destination for the many and a prison cell for the few, as the focus of many remains bridging the logistical gap between islands by suggesting an elusive Garden of Eden in the shape of a tunnel.

We hope the competent authorities will take note of these issues and seriously attempt to resolve them as soon as possible.

One can only imagine how much worse our situation will be if, God forbid, the tunnel becomes a reality.

Steve Pace is a strategic thinker.

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