Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Radical Reform (not) Guaranteed

It’s fair to say that public transport is currently in shambles. Many people would rather travel with their own car to get from place to place than use the bus. This is simply because buses, for the most part, are either run down, filthy or (and this is my personal favourite) they constantly belch black smoke from their exhausts, leaving others struggling and scrambling to find a nearby patch of clean air before it’s too late. Furthermore, the service, at this moment in time, is occasionally so unreliable that you could end up waiting for at least an hour for a bus that should be passing at least once every half-hour.

Therefore, at this moment in time, you couldn’t really blame the commuter for wanting to use his or her own car as opposed to public transport. Currently, it’s much better than the service provided in all aspects. Hence, in this light, much has been made about the radical reform that public transport will be facing in the current months in order to get Malta up to (the all-too-often used quote) “European standards”. However, while the infrastructure will be upgraded in practically all aspects, there’s one factor that’s going to almost certainly keep Malta lagging behind its European neighbours – our drivers.

Provided that the current crop of drivers will be retained, Malta is going to still encounter major problems vis-à-vis the reform. While there are drivers out there who deserve to be kept within the system, as they are courteous, polite and have respect not only for their commuters, but also for other drivers on the road, we can unfortunately say that these are very much in the minority. Instead, the most frequent sight when one embarks on a bus trip is seeing a bus driver with his shirt half opened and several chest hairs popping out, incessant swearing and a total lack of consideration for everyone, in particular other road users; as such people believe that the road belongs to them and them only. It’s an attitude that’s beset Malta for way too long now, and it’s one that has to change with immediate effect.

One such solution driven towards such change would be to pass all current drivers through a “fit and proper person test”. Drivers should be tested for the most basic of things that one would expect in a person providing a service as important as public transport – basic manners, proper driving, cleanliness, and a proper uniform are the first things that come to mind. The drivers would be examined by bus conductors living in countries where public transport is already of a high standard, such as the United Kingdom, France or Germany. If the candidate drivers fail the test, they would be given four weeks to up their act and sit for the test again, only this time, failure is not an option. Those who pass first time would be retained with immediate effect. In this manner, one would already start filtering out the rotten apples from the good ones.

To ensure that this test would not descend into a farce (as some drivers might potentially be exemplary during this ‘screening’ phase and then back to their old ways when providing the service), random checks would be performed on the drivers operating the different routes. If any such driver were not to comply with the standards as set out in the test, then they would be slapped with a warning or a sanction. If the offenders persist, then this would eventually result in their sacking from the transport company. Such a system would ensure firstly that every driver complies to the rules as the consequences could be severe, and secondly ensure that a new influx of drivers better than the previous crop would eventually emerge.

But we can only dream about such a system being implemented before the actual reform does start, can we now, Austin? If we’re going to have a reform, then let’s do it properly with immediate effect and sort this problem out before it’s too late.

God Bless You all!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Condom Machine on Campus Debate (?)

There's nothing better than to get the new University scholastic year off to a controversial start by yet again bringing up the debate about whether a condom machine should find its place on Campus. This discussion was entirely prevalent towards the end of the last scholastic year, especially when KSU elections came about, and since then, talk about it hasn't died down. Indeed, companies like Vodafone only added fuel to the debate throughout Freshers' Week when they were seen distributing free condoms with their promotions in order to entice more customers to join them. However, the reality of the situation is that despite Vodafone's best efforts, we're still no closer to ending this age-long debate and finally finding a solution to this 'problem'.

But is it a problem in the first place? Why is University focusing on the installation of a condom machine on Campus when there are so many other things that need to be tackled with instantaneous effect; so many other things that are incredibly important and yet are not given priority? I'm relating to the perennial horror of horrors that us students have to face week in, week out - day in, day out actually, with the infamous parking problem that plagues the University grounds.

You don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that for a population of 10,000 students, with them possibly rising to 11,000 in the near future and only on the up from year to year, 645 odd parking spaces to share are never going to be enough for them to cope with. Indeed, a look at the big car park near Gateway Building would often show many cars parked illegally on white lines or near the designated blue boxes that they're allowed to be parked in, to the extent that this car park is taking around 50 to 75 more cars than it should be occupying. The result: Chaos, confusion galore, and a lot of swearing from the frustrated student drivers trying to find the holy grail of a parking space. Students have also started looking towards using a rocky piece of land behind the Agriculture Institute, that resembles more of Cart Ruts rather than a parking area, to park their cars. The net result of this all is that if you're unlucky enough to have a lecture starting at 9, you still have to be at University by 8 o'clock as otherwise you'll have nowhere to park. Meanwhile, just beyond the concrete barrier that separates the students' part of the car park from the administration's side of it, one will be delighted to find at least half of the spaces empty, all available for parking. Unfortunately, not for students though - if a student does attempt to park his/her car, then the likelihood is that he/she will be greeted by a clamp and a €23 fine on his/her return. If your name is Jonathan Tonna, however, you'll be able to dispose of it quite easily!

Numerous letters have been written to the newspaper and complaints issued, but all have been to no avail so far. Last year's KSU did nothing to improve the situation for students, to the extent that the current administration has to sort out the mess of the previous administration and try and find some kind of solution to the problem. This attitude could be contrasted easily to the 2007/08 administration, where at one point in time, the then-President David Herrera ordered that students park wherever they want on a particular day so that they would make a statement to increase the parking spaces available. That worked back then, so why won't something to that extent work now? KSU have promised us a feasibility study into the possibility of making the big car park multi-storey, but this will be done, according to reports, by the end of this administration's term in office. Therefore, the earliest we would be able to see construction works start would be the beginning of the 2010/11 scholastic year, until which there will certainly be another massive influx of new cars, new drivers and new problems.

It's time to act on this situation and improve on the mess that we currently face as it's now, finally, got out of control! The only thing we're going to be seeing from that car park is a series of bashed up cars soon... and something in my head tells me that only if it is one of the KSU's members cars will we then start to see some form of action taken. A bit of an attitude like our current Government's... an attitude that I hope won't be resorted to.

God Bless You all!