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MALTATODAY 10 October 2021

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12 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 10 OCTOBER 2021 NEWS A €6 billion metro project drawn up by the German consultancy firm ARUP is being billed as the feasible mass transit public transport system for Malta – ex- cluding other alternatives like tram lines, a hybrid of underground and above- ground lines, or an elevated monorail. So far, an 'Options Assessment' report that led to this conclusion remains un- published, save for the hint that other options were excluded because of their visual impact, and not to disrupt existing parking and road traffic. But without publication of the full re- ports, it is difficult to have a fruitful and informed discussion, says Maria Attard, the head of the university's Geography Department and director of the Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable De- velopment. "I feel all this is just generating hype and acting as a distraction to what we should be discussing and doing. I am very dis- appointed that after so much waiting, the studies were not made public. A me- ga-project of this size cannot happen in a vacuum and requires long term inte- grated land use and transport planning," Prof. Attard told MaltaToday. Apart from the likelihood that the cost mentioned may be conservative – as is "almost always the case for such mega projects" – Prof. Attard says the study seems to be a preliminary one as it does not include geological studies, impact and costs associated with the risks to nat- ural resources and heritage, such as the "water table, natural landscapes, remov- al of precious green areas, conflict with fortifications and other archaeological remains"; as well as adaptations required due to climate change and the risks of flash flooding or sea level rise. This leaves experts baffled at why a met- ro was favoured over other less expensive alternatives, which may be implemented in a shorter time-frame. "I was concerned to see that the consultants consider bus rapid transit and surface trams having a negative visual impact. Isn't a long queue of smoking, noisy cars a negative visual impact? And were alternatives to a €6.2bn project simply dismissed be- cause of the potential of removal of a few parking spaces along a few kilometres of roads? Seriously?" Attard asks. Sociologist Godfrey Baldacchino, Mal- ta's Ambassador for Islands & Small States, and President of the International Small Islands Studies Association, also notes that other small states and islands have opted for a monorail. "The 'Mal- ta Metro' is being proposed as an un- derground initiative; although my own preference is to opt for an aboveground monorail (and thus eliminate most con- struction waste). For actual and success- ful examples, look at Mauritius, Singa- pore and Okinawa, three small island jurisdictions with dense populations like Malta," Prof. Baldacchino says. Malta coming of age? Still, for all those who have been clam- ouring for a mass transit system for years, the fact that the country is actually discussing a mass transit system leaves room for optimism. Despite the lack of details, this is the nearest we have had for a concrete vision for an overhaul of the public transport system: a fast direct connection which allows commuters to travel from A to B without being stuck in traffic which could well provide an alter- native to car use. Baldacchino represents this sentiment despite his preference for a monorail over the proposed metro. "Unlike public buses, or electric vehicles, or ride-hail- ing apps (all of which navigate the same streets), this mass transit system will have its own dedicated infrastructure; al- though such transportation systems will need to exist to complement the metro. Just imagine the relief: finally, no traf- fic jams; and you can actually plan your journey down to minutes." Baldacchino also welcomes the realisa- tion that Malta's "personal auto mobility paradigm", that keeps gripping the Mal- tese islands 100 years since the arrival of the car, has driven the island to the wall. Traffic gridlock, the permanent craving for more parking spaces, the pressure to build new roads and widen existing ones, has reached a limit. "The Maltese gov- ernment has finally signalled that it has read the message and is willing to have us consider a truly alternative mass transit transport option." A Malta metro would configure lo- cal transportation "simply being being there", Baldacchino says. "For those wed- ded to their private vehicles, they may be reluctant to shift gear: mass transit is 'mass', and involves commuting with others. However, the benefits easily out- weigh the costs." And being also within the realm of fis- cal viability, given Malta's growing pop- ulation, Baldacchino surmises the metro could actually make Malta an even more attractive as a place to visit, live and work in. Futuristic Labour testing the waters Still the non-committal and cautious approach by government ministers sug- gests the Abela administration is actual- ly testing or entertaining public opinion with no clear plan of action. A prudent approach is understandable: the success of any mass transit system depends on being endorsed and used by the masses. But throwing one's eggs in one expen- sive and all-encompassing basket could also lead to paralysis, raising the question as to whether we are trying to avoid those measures to reduce car dependancy now, in the name of solution in a more distant future? Prof. Attard cannot understand why we keep avoiding "low-hanging fruits" such as cheaper, more feasible, mass transport options that can be implemented in the short-term. "I cannot simply understand why we keep avoiding these low hanging Metro: 'Brave new Malta' or just talk? Is the metro a dream of a nation coming of age, a construction nightmare in the making, or an exercise in futuristic talk to entertain public opinion before an election, asks James Debono A high-rise at Pembroke? (C) Metro MT More towers in Bugibba (C) Metro MT Overland rail in Naxxar (C) Metro MT

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