Which road leads to a multi-modal transport system?

Friends of the Earth Malta laments upcoming shared e-scooter ban.

In an announcement earlier this week, NGO Friends of the Earth Malta announced its dismay at the upcoming ban on shared e-scooters, stating that it represents the latest casualty in the field of shared mobility in Malta.

In its statement, the NGO said that over the past year and a half we have witnessed the main shared mobility providers in Malta exit the playing field, with car sharing operator GoTo announced their departure in September 2022, then bicycle sharing system Nextbike Malta shared news about their closure in December 2022 and ride sharing company Cool leaving the market shortly after in January 2023.

These companies, the NGO stated, threw in the towel for various reasons, which included a lack of suitable infrastructure (in the case of cycling), unaddressed and worsening road safety concerns, and a lack of government support and incentives for such sustainable mobility alternatives.

Shared mobility – a solution mentioned in the Transport Master Plan

In the Transport Master Plan for 2025 (published in 2016), the government had appeared to recognize the important contribution of shared mobility services in the shift from a transport system dominated by private car use to a multi-modal transport system. The document expressed the ambition to introduce a car sharing and bicycle sharing system in Malta, after which a number of shared mobility services were introduced in Malta, such as Nextbike in 2016 and GoTo and Cool in 2018. Since then, other shared mobility services joined their ranks, like Tallinja Bike, Whizascoot, Bolt, and Bird, providing shared two-wheelers from bicycles, to moto-scooters and e-kick scooters.

The NGO acknowledges that, while the introduction of e-kick scooters came with a new legislative framework, regulating driving age, speed limits and licensing and insurance, their use on the ground, in the streets, has been utterly unregulated. They are driven without respect for road rules and left parked in the middle of pavements, in front of doors or dumped by the wayside. However, these are issues that could have been easily addressed, should have been foreseen from the start, and for which solutions have long been suggested by sustainable mobility experts and organisations such as Friends of the Earth Malta and bicycle advocacy group Rota. For years, there have been calls for dedicated parking spots for bicycles (and scooters), for protected lanes and traffic calmed zones, and for a connected network to safely use these modes of transport.

The NGO lamented the lack of synergy between the promotion of these modes of transport. A diversity of transport modes is needed to build a truly multi-modal transport system, with shared mobility options complementing a robust public transport system. With the average trip distance in Malta being only 5.5km, many of the shorter trips occur in the congested urban core, where micro-mobility can be a suitable solution for short trips, or to complete the first- or last mile of a trip. Leaner and cleaner modes of transport are essential in a dense urban area, where public space is severely limited.

Private car use is the least space-efficient, and the source of pollution and road safety concerns

The latest National Household Travel Survey (2021) showed that the modal share of private car use is only increasing, at 84% of total trips. While the government is intently suffocating alternative modes of transport, how will we ever reach the target of a reduction of car modal share to 41% of all trips by 2030, set by the same government in their Transport Master Plan? The NGO concluded by asking how Malta is expected to reach our carbon emission reduction targets, address air pollution, and create safer roads, and what the government’s vision for reaching these goals and attaining a real modal shift to sustainable mobility is.

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