Metromania is taking over Malta after Prime Minister Robert Abela unveiled that long-awaited government-commissioned studies into an underground system will be subject to public consultation in the coming weeks. But, there is a better, much more efficient solution, that could be up and running within a few years, a bus rapid transit system.
It’s easy to see why the news has gotten so many people excited. For many Maltese people who have made use of impressive metro systems in some of Europe’s major cities, an efficient service seems to be like the most obvious solution to the country’s never-ending traffic problems.
However, while eyecatching renders have made buzz surrounding the project grow, it has led to people ignoring the most glaring problems behind the proposal.
Constructing a metro will be no easy feat and will require a multi-billion euro fund to complete. It will also need massive infrastructural and geographical changes to Malta’s current transport system, which will come at the detriment of green spaces and town centres.
Meanwhile, projections suggest it will take at least 20 years to complete, meaning that it could be decades until the country sees any benefits from the proposal, if at all with questions surrounding the long term feasibility of service gathering steam.
The truth is, one simple and efficient solution has been under our noses.
BRT, or metro bus, is a bus-based public transport designed to have better capacity and reliability than a conventional bus system. Typically, a BRT system uses roadways that are dedicated to buses and gives priority to buses at intersections where they interact with traffic.
Ultimately, BRT looks to combine the capacity and speed of a metro with the flexibility, lower cost and simplicity of a bus system.
Unlike a metro, a BRT, which is a mass rapid transit solution, can be completed within a relatively short timeframe of between three to four years. It also comes at a fraction of the cost when compared to other light rail projects, while also having less impact on current infrastructure and the environment.
A BRT also makes sense for a country like Malta – which would need to construct an entire metro system from scratch with no guarantees that it will be used sufficiently to justify its massive daily costs.
At present, Malta carries around 6,500 passengers per hour across all of Malta and Gozo. The busiest corridors are the South and Sliema which carry 1,800 passengers per hour and 900 passengers per hour respectively.
In comparison, a light rail system would need at least 20,000 passengers per hour to be feasible.
A BRT would help address the traffic problem while being able to scale up its service when necessary.
Journeys, funnily enough, will actually be quicker than its metro counterparts – while also ensuring that the country makes the radical shift to public transport in a much shorter time frame.
Of course, the ball remains firmly in the government’s court on whether to pursue its plans. So far, it has at least conducted a study into the proposed metro, much more than what can be said about any of its predecessors, who for too long buried their hands in the sand over the transport issue.
But, we shouldn’t let excitement get in the way of building the best possible future for money. Billions of euros of investment at the expense of our environment does not need to be the only answer.
What do you think of a bus rapid transit?