Will free public transport reduce congestion?


It has been promised for years and finally the date has been set for free public transport for all residents of Malta.

From October next year, anyone with a Tallinja Card will be able to take the bus without paying anything.

The 2022 budget measure will cost the taxpayer at least 5 million euros for the first three months by subsidizing tickets and other costs – according to financial estimates.

Spending on the Tallinja card will drop from 3.8 million euros currently to 8.6 million euros next year.

But Transport Minister Ian Borg told parliament on Tuesday that this would mean more people would use public transport by reaching a “new slice of people”.

Finance Minister Clyde Caruana said it was the “next step” to reduce congestion.

Critics, however, doubt it will have the impact it promised.

Professor Maria Attard, director of the Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development at the University of Malta, suggests that pushing for “free” transport will not encourage large numbers of people to switch to public transport.

“The most pressing issues regarding the use of public transport in Malta are not related to price – many already travel for free or at heavily subsidized prices,” she said.

“They are linked to the unreliability of the service, the schedule and, to a lesser extent, the design of the network (roads). “

The measure would only be successful if the quality of service is high, which would require bus lanes to improve transport times, an app to remove illegal parking from roads, and better infrastructure at bus stops.

“It is only when this is achieved that the bus operator can be asked to increase the provision of services in areas of high demand.”

Indeed, Attard predicts that there will be “other traffic jams” in the future, not because of free public transport, but because “of the lack of restraint or disincentive to use the road. car “.

She points to other countries that have tried free public transport and says there is still “no solid evidence that free public transport has solved environmental or traffic problems.”

Studies in Santiago, Germany, Tallinn and Luxembourg, all of which offered free public transport, indicated little change in car travel overall, she said.

“Without appropriate and efficient car restraint policies, a measure such as ‘free’ public transport will not be sustainable. “

Commuters at the Valletta bus station, who currently use the service, said Malta timetables that while the measure is a good incentive, more needs to be done to make it work.

Milos, a Serbian resident who uses public transport every day, could reduce wait times at bus stops.

“Sometimes you end up waiting for people to give the driver the correct amount, and that can take a good 10 minutes – minutes where you end up being late for work,” he said.

Charlo Cutajar also believes the incentive will encourage more people to opt for the bus. “I end up spending over € 8 a week on the buses, I think more people will opt for this incentive – you know the Maltese, first out of their pocket and we like to save money,” he said. he declares.

But he said it was important for buses to become more frequent and accessible if the measure is to work.

“There are times when I find myself late for work, or the bus doesn’t stop at all,” he said.

Her comments reflect what Ruth, a Scottish resident who has been on buses for six years, said.

“Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the bus will arrive, which can be stressful if you have to get to work. If that happens you end up taking a cab, ”she said.

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