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Malta News - 30/05/2019

Paris launched a new underground metro… Malta please take note

Author: George Mangion
Published on Business Today 30th May 2019

Paris latest metro project is hoped will reduce the city’s traffic problems and improve connections – both physically and socially – between the suburbs and the central area within the existing ring road.

To start with, one observes how it focuses on eliminating traffic from the famous “La Defense” district which lies just outside Paris. Here one finds the world’s largest fresh-produce market, a handful of universities, a conurbation of the region’s public housing, and several small cities with population densities higher than that of Paris itself.

It is an ambitious project started by the Sarkozy presidency. It involves construction of four new metro lines around Paris and expansion of two existing lines of Paris Metro, with the aim of providing direct connectivity between suburban districts without having to travel through the city centre, while also linking important transport hubs in the city.

The project is estimated to eliminate heavy traffic from Paris centre with an elimination of approximately 150,000 cars. The future network is projected to have a daily ridership of two million passengers by 2026.

The concept is exciting. It plans to usher in fully automated, driverless trains. These are not bullet trains but will run on the new network at an average speed of 60km/h. If everything works according to plan, the Grand metro will reduce the smog-choked region’s car traffic and ease social ills.

Without any doubt, this ingenious architectural marvel will relieve pressure on city-centre lines, and could give a boost to suburban business hubs. Readers may ask if this is a perfect solution to cater for the growth in number of tourists who visit Paris. The truth is that by 2030 Paris expects 10.5 million passengers to use the city’s metro every day. When fully operational, according to its designers the new system should serve the needs of the city for at least another 50 years.

It goes without saying that like Malta, Paris badly needs a new mass transit network. Malta is facing serious mobility problems caused by more cars on cluttered roads. Many agree that this is the result of new affluence not helped by an influx of foreign labour and galloping tourism. Motorists are the first to suffer the inconvenience of increased vehicular presence which is making commuting a daily nightmare.

This is no exaggeration. Just reflect on studies which indicate commuters waste at least 30 minutes a day being blocked in traffic. Nobody can in reality dispute the fact that the nation’s productivity trajectory depends on having an efficient road infrastructure.

During a recent televised debate between the two main political leaders, it was proposed by Joseph Muscat that government plans to alleviate the problem by making public transport free for all. This is just a palliative and will not wipe out the problem.

The need for a mass transit solution dilemma has been the focus of both political parties who each extoll their heartfelt wishes wanting to solve the problem. It was no surprise, that a mass public transportation system was a feature of the last general election campaign, with Labour and PN pledging to conduct studies on how best to solve the issue. In a recent TV debate, both political leaders prophesised that their ideas are functional, and expected to revolutionise mass transit – infusing a cataclysmic change.

A case in point is how commuters in Gozo prefer an underground metro system linking strategic points like Valletta, the University and Mater Dei Hospital – a master structure converging to a tunnel. Equally vocal are those who uttered sound bites by lobbyists proposing the construction of the monorail system.

This involves adding both over ground and underground lines running North-South and West-East, intersecting at key traffic junctions and feeding at its various stops into other above-ground public transport means. Previous studies had estimated the cost of a modest 70km service line will reach €1.42 billion (more than seven year’s worth in EU cohesion funds). Not a small ticket for a tiny economy with a mere €13 billion annual GDP. The government, while keeping its cards close to its chest, contends that studies indicate a metro system is only sustainable with a higher population otherwise the fare needs to be subsidized out of increased taxation. In choosing a monorail solution, many systems are popular such as the Maglev model.

This deploys an advanced technology in which magnetic forces lift, propel, and guide a vehicle over a guide-way.

Press comments reveal that detailed studies are being carried out by Arup, a London-based engineering and consultancy firm. Another opportunity is the hybrid system of buses and rail proposed by Bjorn Bonello, a planning consultant. Whichever, model is chosen, one has to make certain that stations are located close to residential areas otherwise few passengers will use them.

The million-dollar question is who will foot the bill. Perhaps the answer is up in the air when one contemplates the financial assistance that China is reputed to offer. This package is part of its policy to help countries which sign up in the initiative namely the “One Belt and One Road” (OBOR).

Historically, one recall how over the past centuries trade flourished code named the Silk Road, a network of trade routes that linked China to Central Asia and the Arab world. Billions of dollars have been invested by China, since it was launched in 2013 assisting over 60 countries, in a range of infrastructure projects including railways, bridges, roads and ports.

It was no co-incidence that during a visit by prime minister Joseph Muscat to China, saw the signing of a memorandum of undertaking. This was a renewal of a previous one signed six years ago and encapsulates the wishes of China in its unique policy to trade and expand business opportunities with other countries.

The Economist reported that recently Italy’s government launched a “Task Force China” to develop a national strategy to boost economic and trade relations with China and guarantee itself a “position of leadership in Europe”. This initiative is expected to increase exports from Italy to Asia and attract much needed inward investment.

Malta may also benefit, if it boldly embarks on this ambitious roadmap to attract overseas investment in an islandwide underground transit system. Paris has taken the first bold steps to build a grand new metro.

Can we learn a lesson from Paris in its ambitious dream to liberate city dwellers from its presently cluttered roads.

George Mangion

Author: George Mangion
Published on Business Today 30th May 2019
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