Transport and Infrastructure Malta – the two major government agencies tasked with improving Maltese roads and addressing traffic congestion – will have much less money to work with next year, according to the government’s proposed budget for 2024.
At the same time, the Spanish private company behind Malta’s ‘free’ public transport service, better known as Tal-Linja, will see millions more euros invested in them at a time when bus usage is losing the public’s trust.
Estimates for 2024, published by the finance ministry, show that the recurrent budget of Transport Malta has been slashed by €3.5 million, from €11.5 million in 2023 to just €8 million next year.
No details have been given to explain this cut and who will be affected.
The largest expense at the regulator is related to salaries, wages, and staff allowances, as the agency has more than doubled its headcount in the last years, particularly when minister Ian Borg was at its helm.
The agency has also been subject to several corruption scandals and rackets, the most recent being the revelation that ministers and ministries were passing lists of constituents who would be pushed to the front of the queue for the driving licence exam or even ‘helped’ with passing.
While EU-driven schemes related to the electrification of private cars will be enhanced, with some €16 million in incentives being made available, road projects to ease traffic congestion will suffer a major blow.
Infrastructure Malta is also plagued by reports of wrongdoing, inflated costs of road projects, and conflicts of interest among its staff. Meanwhile, funds for the construction of roads and maintenance have been slashed by a staggering €20 million.
This is the second year in a row that fewer funds are being dedicated to Malta’s road network.
Actual road expenditure in 2022 stood at €117 million and will now drop to just €70 million in 2024.
On the other hand, funds for capital projects related to maritime infrastructure will remain almost the same, with some projects planned years ago set to finally start moving.
This includes the Marsamxett ferry landing site, with just €1 million dedicated to it for 2024 when it is expected to cost much more, and the reconstruction of Lascaris Wharf.
The major winner in this year’s transport budget is by far the Madrid-based company Autobuses de Leon, which runs Malta’s fully subsidised public bus network.
While increasing their annual subsidy by an additional €9 million, from €40 million this year to €49 million in 2024, the government will spend another €25 million to buy the Tal-Linja card services.
Also, Economy Minister Clyde Caruana designated another €8.5 million to the Spanish company to change over part of the fleet into electronic vehicles.
The original plan was that Malta’s bus network would become more financially independent and rely less on government subsidies. But over the last few years, taxpayers have wholly financed the service.
In the meantime, the ‘free’ public transport buses initiative has not contributed to less traffic congestion as while passengers increased, this was only the result of population growth, mainly through the importation of cheap labour.
The Gozo channel service will also benefit from more subsidies as the state company registers further losses.
Caruana estimated that subsidies to Gozo Channel will need to reach almost €15 million next year. This excludes a further €8 million for the fast ferry service between the two islands.