Transport and how it is affecting us – without knowing?!

Prof. Maria Attard

The current situation on our roads is seriously affecting our quality of life. Anxiety is probably the most obvious effect. We are anxious of driving because of the fear of being stuck in traffic and not finding parking, arriving late and the possibility of an accident due to a general lax attitude towards enforcement and dangerous driving by some. Those outside the car fear more the road environment with anxiety over their safety.

This is a result of building infrastructure primarily for the car with little or no space for those walking or cycling. There are those that try to walk and cycle and are afraid of the high levels of pollution as well as the inadequate, broken, uneven road surfaces on which they have to walk or cycle.

Without knowing we are now in a dire situation of anxiety brought about by our choices which over the years have been dictated by the over-dependence on the car. These are not unknown effects. These are all very well documented in literature, even studies carried out in Malta show vulnerable groups particularly afraid of the road and anxious about their travel.

And then there are those that depend on the road for their income. Those that deliver goods, deliver services and provide public transport to move large groups of people from A to B. These are slowly being pushed aside and allowed to be delayed, allowed to reduce their levels of service, and ultimately become redundant. The case of public transport (including school transport) is a particularly sore point for me since these services make most efficient use of the road space by transporting large numbers of people in one vehicle. Imagine if all those people in buses and school vans and coaches have to suddenly (or slowly) shift to car! Imagine shifting the delivery of goods to night time, increasing traffic at night, increasing noise in quite neighbourhoods, and in doing so increasing the prices of goods since their delivery is so expensive.

But that is the price we pay for car dependence. In this glaringly obvious state of affairs, why the inactivity to do something about it? Building or upgrading our roads to fit more cars is NOT a solution. It is a disease disguised as a cure.

So what are the solutions? There are many. Let’s start by providing effective incentives for those that are ready to switch from car to bus, walking and cycling. Financial incentives are only effective if proper disincentives are put into place and quality services are provided. Free stuff alone have never been successful. Roll out programmes to discourage car use with employers (large and small) and in areas where the impacts of traffic are truly having a deleterious effect on the environment and public wellbeing. Manage land use development to take into account mobility impact. And more importantly start changing the infrastructure. Upgrade the roads to prioritise the bus, clean up and re-build pavements, manage parking, start building cycle paths, fast!

Let’s change the way we look at the road and its function to serve people rather than cars.