Edito TMID: Popularizing public transport
Covid-19 has impacted mobility in the country and as a result the number of passengers using public transport is low compared to pre-pandemic levels.
The number of passengers in 2021 amounted to 35.2 million, which is an increase from the 33.9 million passengers in 2020. However, this remains lower than the 58.4 million passengers recorded in 2019 and the 53.4 million registered passengers in 2018. These statistics were sent by Malta Public Transport (MPT) to The Malta Independent in response to a number of queries.
MPT pointed out that the pandemic has impacted mobility in several ways. “In addition to the massive reduction in tourism, which has had a huge impact on business in general, many Covid-related measures are impacting mobility in one way or another. Measures such as remote working, whether as a precaution or due to quarantine, reduce the need for people to travel. Restrictions on restaurants, entertainment venues and events are also driving down travel needs. Likewise, restrictions on in-person visits from vulnerable friends and relatives also mean people are traveling less. So, as long as mobility is affected, it is understandable that bus passenger numbers continue to be affected as well,” a spokesperson said.
Once tourism picks up, we will undoubtedly see an increase in the number of public transport passengers. However, some effects of the pandemic, like the now popular idea of remote working, may end up being here to stay.
But that’s not the point. The real problem that needs to be solved is how to get more local people to use the bus service rather than their cars. After all, it’s no secret that the Maltese love their cars.
So how do we change this mentality?
Making public transport free for all, once it kicks in this year as promised in the budget, will be a good step in the right direction. But the question remains, will this be enough?
MPT mentioned, in response to questions, that: “In order to attract more passengers and even shift passenger car users to public transport, bus service must become more attractive than passenger cars. This can be done by giving priority to buses on the road, especially at intersections.
“Simple enforcement measures could also make the bus service more attractive, as buses currently face many challenges. The number of diversions, planned or unplanned, vehicles blocking turns and vehicles parked at bus stops are just a few examples of the obstacles that seriously affect bus service to the detriment of passengers,” MPT said.
When it comes to prioritizing public transport, one would have to see how this can be done. Bus lanes were used more in the past than they are today and we all remember the negative reaction in the past to their placement in certain areas, and the amount of traffic they created in those areas. Their use in some places, however, did not create problems. But have they really caused a shift towards the use of public transport? This is something that deserves further study.
As for a faster and stricter enforcement of vehicles blocking corners or parking where they shouldn’t, I think we can all agree on the need for this.
The government needs to take a serious look at the situation in Malta after making public transport free to the public, and if a significant shift to local public transport is not seen, consider what further steps can be taken.