Sorry not in service
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Sorry not in service

Despite significant efforts to improve the infrastructure, traffic is still an issue. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Despite significant efforts to improve the infrastructure, traffic is still an issue. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The traffic congestion problem is not getting any better. While significant efforts are being made to improve the road network, the increasing number of cars is neutralising these improvements. My concern is that public transport is not meeting the modest expectations of those who, like me, would prefer to use it more frequently to avoid the hassle of using private transport.

I recently experienced a tragi-comic incident at the Valletta terminus while trying to get a bus to my destination. I was impressed by the number of buses that displayed the notice ‘Sorry not in service’. Similarly, the number of ‘yellow jacket’ public transport inspectors milling about the terminus made me wonder why not one of them was trying to address the complaints of passengers who had been waiting for a long time for a bus to turn up and take them to their destination.

One elderly lady, who was trying to get a bus to Mater Dei to visit her sick husband, mildly complained about the long delay to a flustered burly driver who had just arrived at the pickup bay. Like others she had been waiting there for 35 minutes. The driver, who must have been trained at the Fawlty Towers School of Management, hurled abuse at this woman, swore like a drunken sailor and told her that he did not care at all about her wanting to go to the hospital to visit her sick husband. The presence and protests of fellow passengers stopped this incident for turning into one of physical violence.

The recent rains have once again exposed the pathetic quality of some of our roads

I must say that this was an infrequent case of rudeness as most of the time bus drivers are well mannered despite working in stressful conditions. If public transport is to be a solution rather than a contributor to our gridlocked roads problem, the company that runs this monopolistic public service needs to invest more in modern buses and, more important, in people. Some of the buses are simply not fit for purpose. The time schedule of routes advertised on bus stage notices boards is a joke. There are simply not enough buses or drivers that can deliver the promised service.

Another category of officials that seem to be “not in service” for long periods are traffic wardens. Those who use the Coast Road on Sunday mornings in the stretch between the Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq and Magħtab roundabouts will be forgiven for forgetting that they are not in the Los Angeles Motor Speedway.

Motorcycle enthusiasts use this stretch to test their two-wheeled vehicles at excessive speeds while twisting and turning around cars trying to drive safely on this busy road. Not one law enforcement officer is ever in sight, at least on the many days when I frequent this area. The case for installing speed cameras on this road especially in the stretches used by petrol-heads is indeed a strong one. Abusive practices that are still going unchecked and that are making driving that more dangerous and stressful include double parking especially in narrow town centre roads.

The typically Maltese practice of switching on the hazard lights while exposing other drivers to risks by double parking a vehicle does nothing to diminish the gravity of this abuse. Why are traffic wardens not addressing this issue with more determination?

One final gripe. The recent rains have once again exposed the pathetic quality of some of our town centre roads where large potholes seem to open up after every heavy downpour. Some local councils take prompt action and send contractors to fill in these dangerous holes on a regular basis. Others seem not to care, and large stretches of town centre roads have a lunar landscape profile. Complaining to some local councils will at best reward you with an electronic acknowledgement of receipt of your e-mail but no personalised reply or commitment to put things right.                              

One could argue that these are little things that taken in the context of a booming economy are meaningless. For most ordinary people these things matter as all they aspire for is to go about their daily lives without being exposed to frustrating irritants that are caused by paid public service officials who decide to adopt a “not in service” attitude.

The leap forward in the quality of life of the majority of people will not come from smart legislation or booming GDP growth figures but from how determined public officials are to give them good value for the money they pay in taxes.

johncassarwhite@yahoo.com

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