Malta conducts a National Household Travel Survey every 10 years, with the last being conducted in 2021. NHTS 2021 produced some interesting results regarding travel characteristics, habits, and patterns of the Maltese population and this is especially so for active mobility.
Malta is a small, urbanised country. Trips tend to be short and indeed the NHTS showed the 47% of all trips were intrazonal on a regional scale. This, coupled with Maltas mild climate, therefore presents a great opportunity for active mobility modes to be predominant methods of transport. Despite this, only 7.1% of all trips are carried out on foot and only 0.7% were carried out by bicycle. On the other hand, 84% were carried out using a private vehicle. Only 6% of trips were carried out using either public transport or ferry.
As awareness about the predominance of car use was anticipated when designing the survey, specific questions were included concerning the barriers to use active mobility modes. When it comes to walking, the most common response chosen by 21% of respondents is that it takes too long. While this is understandable for long distance trips, there are several policy measures that could be enacted to encourage walking. For example, encouraging transit-oriented development is one of them, thus entailing that one does not have to walk far to get to their destination. Reducing the length of pedestrian routes is also another option. For example, pedestrian crossings could be located closer to intersections if speeds are reduced in urban areas. Upgrading pedestrian infrastructure and creating more walkable environments through for example the planting of trees to create shade will likely encourage individuals to walk. Effective measures do not necessarily need to be large scale projects. This is what is being aimed through the development of a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP) for each of the Regions in the Maltese islands. In working with local councils and other relevant stakeholders, the challenges and opportunities for alternative and more sustainable transport options are being looked into, to ultimately propose measures for implementation in the coming years.
The two highest other barriers, each representing 10% of total responses, were the lack of or poor-quality footpaths and too much pollution. The first barrier can be resolved by further investment in pedestrian infrastructure. In terms of pollution reduction, this can be achieved because of increasing the use of sustainable modes and a reduction of car use through effectively incentivising alternatives.
The NHTS also asked respondents to choose a principal barrier to cycling. The most common response, representing a share of 20% of all responses, was the fact that they cannot ride a bicycle. This is understandable, though there has been much improvement in recent years Maltas cycling network and infrastructure is still in its infancy. Indeed, there is a general perception that conditions for cycling in Malta are unsafe, and this hinders people from cycling and getting more accustomed to this mode of travel. This can be seen in the next two most common chosen barriers which were road safety concerns at 17% and poor-quality cycling infrastructure at 13%.
An interesting observation is, like with other modes, the most common trip purpose for cycling trips was commuting to work and going home. Therefore, it is necessary to not only consider on-street cycling infrastructure, but off-street infrastructure such as adequate storage and parking facilities both at workplaces and at home. For example, legislation could be implemented requiring new residential developments over a certain size (such as apartment complexes) to incorporate a bike-storage room in their garage. Similarly, commercial developments could also be required to have bicycle racks and storage facilities. Transport Malta could collaborate with other entities to facilitate the introduction of such amenities.
In terms of barriers to public transport use, the most common responses were that public transport is not punctual at 24% and that it takes too long to reach its destination at 21%. This is unsurprising, Malta has relatively few dedicated lanes which would enable buses to bypass congested traffic conditions during peak hours. Moreover, technology such as Intelligent Transport Systems can be used to prioritise public transport at controlled intersections to further decrease travel times. Interestingly, the fact that public transport is inconvenient was one of the most common responses at 16%. Naturally this is somewhat subjective, if one is used to driving the car then the bus might seem comparatively inconvenient. However, this is no doubt affected by the perceived reliability and speed of public transport.