Maltas land transport system is highly dependant on private transportation, with corresponding negative effects on citizens health, the environment and the economy. In 2010 Maltas population was at 411,950 inhabitants, in the same year 221,000 drivers were licensed with Transport Malta while a total of 301,605 vehicles where registered and in use. This means that there are more vehicles in Malta than there are licensed drivers. The present high level of cars on Maltese roads is causing deterioration of air quality by exhaust emitted from motor vehicles; delays in journey times due to high levels of congestion at peak and off-peak hours; and the loss of natural areas to make way for the extension and building of new roads.
Certain actions have already been taken by the national government in order to mitigate the continuation of this negative trend. This included the public transport reform, revisions of the registration tax to encourage the purchase of new cleaner vehicles coupled with the scrapping scheme to eliminate old high-polluting vehicles. However, congestion is still very much present with peak hours extending from 7.30 to 9.30 in the morning. Journeys which would take 5 minutes to traverse in off-peak hours, extend up to forty-five minutes during peak hours. These journey delays cost the government and businesses in millions of euros of lost working hours as well as hundreds of euros in wasted fuel for commuters.
The MODUS project aims to address this situation.
The MODUS project will strive to mitigate negative trends in Maltese transport by making public transport more efficient and reliable. This will be done through various measures that will minimize road congestion and make public transport more attractive.
The MODUS project is divided in four main components as follows:
Car trips have a higher CO2 emission per passenger per km travelled, compared to buses. Increased car usage will also have the obvious effect of increasing the levels of CO2 emissions. Therefore, the use of bus transport mode must be encouraged in order to reduce CO2 emissions generated from transportation. Defining a network on the basis of bus stops and thinking in terms of access distance means bringing buses nearer to journey origins and destinations. This is not would not work for longer routes as the increased number of bus stops would increase the journey time and thus the number of vehicles required in operating the route.
One way of solving this problem is to have a network that works on the basis of feeder routes and main routes. The main routes would provide the high capacity point-to-point bus service and smaller routes would feed into the main routes from outlying areas. Usually the feeder services will start some distance away from the interchange, call at a few intermediate points and end at the interchange which would connect several main and secondary routes together.
This system has been adopted by the Public Bus Transport Reform which has moved the service away from a centralized network with Valletta serving as the main hub to a more decentralized network which connects localities directly together.
In order to facilitate this service, the MODUS project will construct seven new interchanges. Where necessary the interchanges will be equipped with intelligent infrastructure that would sense the bus leaving the interchange and automatically stop oncoming traffic in favour of the bus in order to allow the bus to drive on to the carriage way without delay. This will save on bus journey times allowing them to be more punctual in their destinations and thus making them more reliable.
Park and ride (or incentive parking) facilities are car parks with connections to public transport that allow commuters and other people wishing to travel into city centres to leave their vehicles and transfer to a bus, rail system, or carpool for the rest of their trip. The vehicle is stored in the car park during the day and retrieved when the owner returns. Park and ride facilities are generally located in the suburbs of metropolitan areas or on the outer edges of large cities.
In order to reduce congestion to and from certain town centres, a new Park and Ride facility was introduced at Marsa (with 312 available spaces) as the second deliverable of this project. The new Marsa park and ride facility forms an integral part of the new public transport network with several bus routes passing through the facility throughout the day and connecting Marsa to various localities around the island allowing commuters travelling to several destinations the possibility to leave their car at the Marsa site and complete their journey using public transport and avoiding congested roads since the buses have the possibility to bypass traffic by making use of the various bus priority lanes to be introduced as the third deliverable to this project.
The implementation of bus priority measures is increasingly seen as a flexible and cost-effective response to congestion. Bus priority applications have a long history going back to the 1930s but it is in the last two or three decades that bus priority measures have become a central element in tackling the externalities associated with increased urban road use.
With the introduction of five new bus priority lanes and the extension and upgrading of the Floriana and Marsa bus lane bus transport will become much more punctual in its service as the possibility of bypassing common vehicular traffic will be in place. Bus lanes will not only be separate bus lanes accessible only to buses. Intelligent Traffic infrastructure will also be installed at the exit of the bus lanes. This infrastructure will be in the form of traffic lights that will automatically sense approaching buses and automatically stop common traffic in order to give priority to the bus to enter into the carriage way thus avoiding the bus from having to wait for other vehicles before it could join other traffic on the road. All this will increase bus transport efficiency and attractiveness through the improvement of bus journey times.
By introducing bus priority measures, along with the other improvements to be made through the MODUS project, public transport services can become more attractive to potential passengers. Reduction of CO2 emissions through the implementation of bus priority measures will occur as a direct result from the speed that a bus travels. Fuel economy improvement can be implemented by raising travelling speed and replacing overage vehicles with fuel saving.
Traffic management is generally subdivided into two different classes: (i) direct control measures using traffic lights and variable message signs and (ii) indirect control measures like recommendations for the drivers by means of VDS (variable direction signs and text panels), warning messages (via broadcast, RDS/TMC or handy-based services), pre-trip information (e.g. via Internet) and individual driver information systems. The emphasis for classic traffic management is on the direct control measures including indirect control through VDS and text panels. Whereas in urban control the focus lies on traffic light control, there a various options for urban- and interurban motorway control.
The development of systems capable to reason about the traffic behavior and evolution in similar terms to an expert traffic operator is then required. This type of systems may not be conceived to replace the human operator but to act as intelligent assistants that cooperate in the task of defining and applying traffic control decisions. The Intelligent Traffic Management System (ITMS) takes on this concept; a system that embodies knowledge model of traffic behaviour at a strategic level.
The fourth component of the MODUS project will include the installation of an Intelligent Traffic Management System (ITS) that will allow further assistance to the public transport reform by reducing congestion on public transport corridors, especially where no designated bus lanes are possible (due to infrastructure limitations). The ITMS infrastructure will be managed by Transport Malta in real-time by monitoring of traffic conditions on the road network through the installation of dedicated traffic management software and hardware. This will consist of high-end state of the art CCTV cameras that will monitor roads in real-time and Variable Message Signs (VMS) through which road users will be advised of congestion build up and advised to take alternative routes. The system would be monitored and controlled from a centralised hub, from where the road network will be monitored on a 24/7 basis thus enabling better traffic management; resulting in less congestion, shorter travel times, lower vehicle operational costs, and lower emissions of harmful gases. The control centre will be set up at the Park and Ride Facility in Floriana in a dedicated building next to the control centre for bus operation.