metro

A commuter’s nightmare

As a frequent traveller to Brussels, I often use the urban rail system, otherwise known as the Brussels Metro. I have no complaints about the service: it is cheap, reliable and convenient. The idea of an urban rail system for the Maltese Islands has again been mooted but we still await concrete proposals. It is indeed difficult to envisage how an urban rail system could work given the restrictions imposed by the size and high density of population. I’m not sure whether there’s an appetite for such a massive investment either. In my view, funding the investment would present a formidable challenge at a time when private sector funds are being directed towards real estate where returns are much higher. I can’t see how government could fund the investment itself. I’m not sure either whether the project qualifies as a European Fund for Strategic Investments initiative bu there again, private sector interest would need to be forthcoming.

In the meantime, commuters from densely populated areas such as Sliema to say Valletta will continue to put up with the often exhaustive commute; travelling either by car or public transport. Whereas a commuter in Brussels can rely on at least three options (two if the commuter has no car), residents in Malta have only one option if they don’t travel by car. Add the hidden cost of commuting and it’s no surprise that despite improvements in public transport, people still complain that it takes far longer to use public transport than using a car. It takes about ten minutes to commute from a centrally-situated hotel in Brussels to Maalbeek Metro Station. Compare that to the several minutes (about 30 minutes including waiting time) minutes it takes to go to Valletta from University by bus.

Of course, all commutes are relative. Half an hour spent squashed in a bus, your face pressed into someone’s armpit, is one thing and feels like an eternity; the same amount of time in classy Mercedes is another. Not prize in guessing which option one would prefer but the issue is precisely that. For many thousands of commuters, there is no option. That’s why an urban rail system could provide some relief to commuters but that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon.