Tuesday 20 November 2018

Full up, and nowhere to go

This article first appeared in Malta Today

Although I do not miss the old buses, I have to admit that sometimes I do get a bit nostalgic for the constant cries of ‘full up’ by our erstwhile bus conductors and drivers.  It was a succinct, very descriptive and let’s-get-right-to-the-point expression which came to be understood in any language, indicating that the bus could not take any more passengers. We all knew better than to try and argue with the exasperated driver, and anyway, who would want to cram into an already crammed bus, especially as the temperatures start rising and body odours start becoming more pungent?  

I don’t know whether this expression is still being used by Malta Public Transport employees, but certainly buses are as crammed as ever, and the long queues at the bus stops populated by optimistic tourists who look eagerly and longingly as each bus approaches, only for their hopes to be bitterly dashed as they whiz by without stopping, make me dread what is going to happen in the peak of summer.

I think it is safe to say that Malta as a country is reaching the ‘full up’ stage due to a combination of factors, not least of which is the haphazard construction and roadworks taking place simultaneously everywhere you go. Roads closed off due to cranes and other heavy machinery mean that you have a situation as experienced this week when Paceville and St Julians were in total gridlock.  Lack of planning? Certainly. Trying to do too much too soon before the cut of point for demolition and excavation works in tourist areas comes into effect on 15 June?  Definitely.  People were uploading statuses begging others to stay away from the area in what sounded like an apocalypse scenario straight out of a disaster movie.  I don’t blame them for doing so, especially if I had been stranded in my home or my car for hours unable to get out. 

But what baffles me is that there seems to be some kind of disconnect between our reality and the world that our politicians are living in.  Here we are grappling with incessant noise, traffic jams, and room-sharing because of unaffordable rents – and yet I look at official Government statements and they seem to be living in a parallel universe. More, more, more they keep telling us – more investment, more foreign workers, more tourists. They are either living in a state of denial or they have come to believe their own hype: that Malta’s economy can only thrive if it keeps growing. In fact, Muscat was recently quoted as saying that “the economy only has a play, rewind and fast forward button…It is unrealistic to believe that the pause button exists… sustainability does not mean we should cut back on what we are doing but understanding the repercussions and planning for them.”   

Nice words, but where is the planning he speaks of?  I urge him and the entire regiment of Government MPs to get out of their official cars and try using a bus, or using their own car, finding their own parking space and getting to their meetings on time – and then get back to me. The general public is fed up of the finger-pointing because the buck ultimately stops with the authorities for they alone have the power to ensure that works which are causing an upheaval are properly timed and managed rather than the current free-for-all. 

And when it comes to sustainability, another major issue is that of sustainable tourism.  It is an important economy for these islands, granted, but like everything else, we are risking killing the goose that lays the golden egg. We would be wise to take a leaf out of what has happened in other tourist destinations and learning a lesson or two. 

According to the website www.skift.com, “In 2014, the documentary “Bye Bye Barcelona” highlighted the negative impact of mass tourism on the city. The local government has stopped issuing licences for new hotels and has banned change-of-use permits required for holiday lets.  As of 2017, Santorini is limiting the number of cruise visitors to 8,000 per day. Local activists in Venice have asked government to ban cruise ships stopping in its harbour, as cruise visitors have quintupled in the past 15 years. Cinque Terre on the Italian coast is capping the number of visitors to 1.5 million per year. Popular attractions including Machu Picchu and Mount Everest are capping the number of visitors and require visitors to be accompanied by a recognised guide, and Zion National Park is looking at proposals to limit visitors through a reservation system.”

Does this sound too drastic? Well, for those who only have Euro signs in their eyes, it might be. But if we do not safeguard our tourism product, we will simply be shooting ourselves in the foot, ruining not only that same product, but also ruining our own quality of life even further.  

After all, would you want to go on vacation to a place which is overcrowded, over-developed and polluted, and where getting from one place to the other is the stuff of nightmares?

 

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