Public transport is something we all experience at some point in our lives. It is an essential part of urban culture, and if you’ve lived or spent time in cities abroad, you know just how important it is for the proper functioning of day-to-day city life.
In Malta, we have a slightly different relationship with public transport.
We don’t look at it as the default transport option, preferring to use our cars instead, causing more traffic and making bus trips take longer. With little or no priority for buses on the road, bus passengers get stuck in traffic, just like car users. The problem is that, unless there are more bus priority measures to improve the efficiency of public transport, then people will stick to their cars.
Now to be fair, there have been some great improvements in public transport usage. There have been year-on-year increases in commuters for the past five years, and nowadays approximately 6,500 people per hour use public transport across Malta and Gozo.
That said, we are still far off our targets for public transport use. These targets are directly tied to reducing CO2 emissions and, inevitably, helping to tackle climate change. By 2025, the proportion of society that uses public transport needs to be double what it is today. This is a local and global commitment. If we don’t reach that target, CO2 emissions arising from urban transportation will increase by 30% by 2025.
So it is absolutely essential that more people use public transport
But how do we get more people to want to use public transport? And is it even possible with the current infrastructure?
As it stands, journeys today are taking longer than they used to, due to a number of reasons. The number of people on the island is constantly increasing. Our buses are already pretty full, especially on key routes. And with so many road works going on, diversions are causing more delays.
Some commuters are expressing their frustrations, but for current public transport users to revert to personal transportation would be tragic.
We need a solution that factors in local realities. Malta is a small island with limited space, so any solution must bear this in mind. It must focus on improving mobility and moving people, rather than vehicles, around.
Many think that mass rapid transit would solve Malta’s transport problems, and they would probably be right. But that solution need not be one which requires a very heavy investment of time (decades) and money (billions).
What if we could implement a mass rapid transit solution without all the capital investment, infrastructure, complexities, and rigidity that most rapid transit solutions offer? And what if it could be implemented within three years?
Enter the Bus Rapid Transit system, a mass rapid transit solution that builds on the foundations of existing bus infrastructure to provide a quicker, more reliable service
In a nutshell, BRT relies on actual bus lanes (not ones you and I can sneakily use to overtake) that are fully segregated from normal traffic. Think trams, but with buses.
Dedicated infrastructure, automated rights of way, limited stops and technology that guides the buses through their lanes. This allows them to provide an uninterrupted service, aided by platform level boarding to allow easy boarding, and off-board fare collection to make sure no time is wasted while people board the bus.
The service uses high quality buses with the latest EURO 6 engine technology, which means CO2 emissions will be at their lowest. And in some cases electric buses are used, which is even more sustainable. The system is not only safer on drivers and passengers thanks to the dedicated lanes and platforms; it is also safer on the environment.
Plus, BRT is substantially cheaper to implement and run than other rapid transit systems, which means it offers the same standard of service at a cheaper cost to the commuter
It is also less intrusive, and requires less infrastructure and land area; something crucial for a small country like Malta where space is limited.
But perhaps the most tangible benefit is the improvement in journey times. Studies show that implementing a BRT system in Malta could reduce journey times but as much as half.
BRT also offers more flexibility than other systems, making it ideal for a country where roadworks or the festa invariably mean your journey will be diverted 17 times.
BRT systems have already been implemented in over 200 large cities around the world, to great degrees of success. They transport over 34 million passengers per day, across 6 continents. Might this be a short-term solution to our ever-growing traffic problem in Malta?
Featured Image: Left Photo by Glen Theuma, Right Photo by David Peacock