Which road leads to a multi-modal transport system?

Which road leads to a multi-modal transport system?

FoE Malta is dismayed to see the ban on shared e-scooters, which represents the latest casualty in the field of shared mobility in Malta. Over the past year and a half, we have witnessed the main shared mobility providers in Malta exit the playing field: first car sharing operator GoTo announced their departure in September 2022, then bicycle sharing system Nextbike Malta shared news about their closure in December 2022 and ride sharing company Cool left the market shortly after in January 2023. These companies threw in the towel for various reasons, which included a lack of suitable infrastructure (in the case of cycling), unaddressed and worsening road safety concerns, and a lack of government support and incentives for such sustainable mobility alternatives.

Shared mobility – a solution mentioned in the Transport Master Plan

In the Transport Master Plan for 2025 (published in 2016), the government had appeared to recognize the important contribution of shared mobility services in the shift from a transport system dominated by private car use to a multi-modal transport system. The document expressed the ambition to introduce a car sharing and bicycle sharing system in Malta, after which a number of shared mobility services were introduced in Malta, such as Nextbike in 2016 and GoTo and Cool in 2018. Since then, other shared mobility services joined their ranks, like Tallinja Bike, Whizascoot, Bolt, and Bird, providing shared two-wheelers from bicycles, to moto-scooters and e-kick scooters.

Admittely, while the introduction of e-kick scooters came with a new legislative framework, regulating driving age, speed limits and licensing and insurance, their use on the ground, in the streets, has been utterly unregulated. They are driven without respect for road rules and left parked in the middle of pavements, in front of doors or dumped by the wayside. However, these are issues that could have been easily addressed, should have been foreseen from the start, and for which solutions have long been suggested by sustainable mobility experts and organisations such as Friends of the Earth Malta and bicycle advocacy group Rota. For years, there have been calls for dedicated parking spots for bicycles (and scooters), for protected lanes and traffic calmed zones, and for a connected network to safely use these modes of transport.

If the government had seen the opportunity of providing safe and suitable infrastructure for micro-mobility, which includes all sorts of small personal (electric) devices, such as bicycles and scooters, there could have been synergy between the promotion of these modes of transport. The government is now saying they want to promote the former – with the long-awaited National Cycling Strategy announced in the same press release – while banning the latter. In reality, a diversity of transport modes is needed to build a truly multi-modal transport system, with shared mobility options complementing a robust public transport system. The average trip distance in Malta is only 5.5km, with many of the shorter trips occurring in the congested urban core, where micro-mobility can be a suitable solution for short trips, or to complete the first- or last mile of a trip. Leaner and cleaner modes of transport are essential in a dense urban area, where public space is severely limited.

Private car use is the least space-efficient, and the source of pollution and road safety concerns

The latest National Household Travel Survey (2021) showed that the modal share of private car use is only increasing, at 84% of total trips. The need to shift to sustainable mobility has never been more urgent. The private car is the least space efficient of all modes of transport, and in addition to road space, takes up precious public space for parking (oftentimes illegally and on pavements). Just shifting from petrol and diesel vehicles to electric cars will not solve our traffic problems. If we are truly concerned about pedestrian safety, so often mentioned in relation to the e-scooters, we should address the main culprit of accidents: car drivers, particularly when over speeding or driven carelessly. This has become all the more clear with the recent driving license racket. Where is the public outrage over people driving killing machines without the proper instruction and assessment? Why don’t we speak up about cars littering our public space and restricting the movement of any other mode of transport, public transport included!

While the government is intently suffocating alternative modes of transport, how will we ever reach the target of a reduction of car modal share to 41% of all trips by 2030, set by the same government in their Transport Master Plan? How will we reach our carbon emission reduction targets, address air pollution, and create safer roads? This begs the question, what exactly is the government’s vision for reaching these goals and attaining a real modal shift to sustainable mobility?

Dr Suzanne Maas

PhD Sustainable Mobility

Climate Campaign Coordinator, Friends of the Earth Malta         

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