Transcript: 16 - Sustainable mobility and transportation — with Therese Bajada
Jeanette:

With us today, there is Doctor Therese Bajada. Therese is a Lecturer at the Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development at the University of Malta. She has a PhD in Transport Studies from University College London and before joining academia, she worked for six years with Transport Malta on national and EU-related projects. Her research interests revolve around transport policy.

She describes herself as motivated and determined.

Today's call is meant to communicate the message that individual planning efforts from each and every one of us can contribute to sustainable mobility so that we all do our part.

So, Therese thank you so much for joining us today.

Therese:

Thank you for the inviting me.

Jeanette:

So, I think we have to start from understanding sustainable mobility because one of the greatest environmental challenges we face today lies in mobility. People need a system of roads of networks, of vehicles, of transportation to function within their society and within their environment and obviously, to keep the economy going. And different modes of transport have, or each leave a mark on the environment. So perhaps if you could start Therese to describe to us what sustainable mobility is.

Therese:

Yes, so when looking at sustainable mobility we need to look at the two words right, so there is mobility, which is the movement of people by the different modes of transport that exist that could be walking, cycling, and using public transport, and also using the personal car. And it's there is also then the sustainability perspective. If you look at sustainability, you need to consider the triple layers of sustainable development, the environment, society, and the economic perspective. Generally, unfortunately, importance is given more on the economic perspective.

In academic literature, the environment is given way more importance in order to discuss issues associated with the repercussions deriving from the importance that is given by the economic perspective. There is also research being carried out on the social perspective and it is important when we look at sustainability and this approach to take to consider one pillar more important than the other is not sustainable in itself. So, we should look at them in an equal aspect, so combining society with the environment together with the economy. And when we look at sustainable mobility, an important perspective in which we look at is accessibility.

So, giving the right the people the right to access and in the environment in which they live. So, and when I talk about people and the human-centric approach that sustainable mobility looks into, and we need to consider that there is not only one group in society: the commuters, but there are different people with different needs, different abilities. There are the vulnerable groups which are the children and the elderly. There are the disabled persons, so when planning and creating policies and transport and their planning these should be looked into. All members in society. That is very important.

When we're looking at sustainable mobility there is an approach and in transport and in the conventional transport economics that is known as derived demand. And derived demand is the way of reaching a destination so departing from point A to reaching point B, and once you reach the destination, you carry out the activity. It can be education, it can be work and that is derived demand. Now what we do in sustainable mobility is that we manage the infrastructure that we have. We manage what infrastructure we have without adding further infrastructure unnecessarily and using what modes of transport there are available and if there is the possibility to introduce new alternative modes of transport to the car. Why? Because people then would have the ability to access destinations with different modes according to their abilities and also their likings.

Jeanette:

Quite right so sustainable urban mobility requires a mind shift so to speak, where transport in private cars and trucking give way to different modes of public transport and greener mobility structures and solutions. And creating these solutions will ensure a vital flow of people of goods of services through, you know, different parts of our economy. And we all know that we need to mitigate climate change and create-climate safe cities. So how can we contribute to sustainable mobility?

Therese:

Yes, in fact, people generally when we carry out questionnaires and ask people about what should be done to improve the situation the answer that we get is “the government needs to do the changes”. I believe that it's a two-way approach, so it's an individual perspective and sustainability, there is what is known as the Local Agenda 21.

The Local Agenda 21 refers to the Village perspective of what a community can do. But then there is also another granular approach in which you can look at it and it is from the individual perspective. There is the saying: “think globally and act locally”. So, if we think globally, if we look at it from a global perspective, we live in an environment now, even because we are experiencing all these flooding’s in Europe and fires elsewhere and the extended heat waves that we are experiencing in Malta also, they are situations that have been generated because of our own doings, our previous generations doing, it's a domino effect, right? So, what we need to do is individually we need to start thinking with regard to mobility and even in other aspects related to sustainability about how we can improve the situation ourselves. For example, it requires simple planning from an individual’s point of view. If you have a car, you do not need to use the car every day, you can plan what you are doing. A good example that I use even in my lectures with my students is that whenever I go to Valletta [Malta’s capital city] I avoid using the car. Because it's a nightmare to park, it's not convenient, so I go with the bus. I walk around the city, then I combine it with other errands in Sliema for example, and I use the ferry service to go to Sliema.

The concept is that you need to take the multimodal approach. What modes are available? How can I make use of these modes of transport? And also there is the concept of the avoid shift and improve in mobility, and it is very much associated with the sustainability paradigm where you can, you need to avoid using mobility that uses fossil fuels because you are impacting the immediate environment in which you are living and that of your children's environment and also you are impacting the rest of the world, there is this domino effect. Then there is the shift approach where you can use different modes of transport. Once these modes of transport are available, plan ahead and make use of them.

And then there is the improved perspective where if you have to have a car or not try to use alternatives fuels to that car; either invest in electric mobility or in hybrid vehicles or else also, if possible, use other modes of mobility like cycling. However, as I said, it needs to be a concerted effort, so it's not only from the individual point of view, but also from a policy making and governmental point of view. In order for the people to start from their own initiatives to make changes, they need to have the right infrastructure, they need to have the right mode of transport available for them so that that they can make the right choices.

Jeanette:

Indeed, and touching again on what you were talking about on the carbon emissions and this 3 way, this 3 part of addressing the situation we know that transport currently accounts for about 1/4 of the EU's greenhouse gas emissions, and this figure continues to increase as the demand continues increasing for, you know, fossil fuel and vehicles at demand fossil fuels. And the European Union through its Green Deal, has actually seeks seeking a 90% reduction on these emissions by 2050. And moving away to more sustainable transport means that users need to put first their needs and providing as you were saying, them with an affordable, accessible, healthier, and cleaner alternatives. So, in Malta, how are we with this target and how are we achieving this, or how are we going about in achieving this? And maybe you could touch on the perspective of local policy, what are we doing about that?

Therese:

Yes, so if you look at the policy documents, so, we have the Transport Malta strategy, the National Transport strategy and also the Master plan in association with transport specifically. But then there are other policy documents that include there was the 2008 bus reform, a public transport reform and ERA [Environment and Resource Authority] also has its own air pollution related documents. If you look at all these documents and there is also the strategy for well-being, from the environment point of view from ERA and you analyse each of these documents which I have done, you will see that they all have the same objectives that of reducing mobility and in relation to fossil fuel mobility.

And also, the idea is to encourage, if you read the documents and encourage alternative modes of transport, such as cycling and walking as well. These are known as active mobility. And cycling and walking apart from being healthy, individuals can also contribute to the environment more. However, then there is a huge gap between the policy and the implementation.

Now the strategy document and the master plan of transport were written in 2016. We are now in 2021 and there is very little effort that is being done to encourage alternative modes of transport. For example, the bicycle strategy for Malta is nowhere to be seen, and there needs to be a more concerted effort. It could be a problem associated with human resources - there might not be enough people working on these documents. However, I think that if there is even more political will and even, we are seeing, I'm not saying that improvement to infrastructure is not needed, it's always needed, however when you have infrastructure you need to consider all the modes of transport. Make it accessible for all. That is the very basic concept and sustainable mobility: accessibility for all. So, I think that is lacking in our situation. The connect between the policy documents and the actual implementation of the policy documents.

Jeanette:

I guess these policy documents are also in line with the Paris Agreement, right? Because within which I believe there are two main important aspects, really, one is the commitment to try and reduce or limit the degree of global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius and the second would be the mechanism to understand and agree within, you know, all of the countries and the commitment - this nationally determined commitment - to see how best to go about reducing these emissions. And in fact, I believe that some countries, European countries, like the UK and the Netherlands have a commitment to have zero transport emissions by 2050, which is a tall order.

But also, this is a call to action. In the sense that we need to act now and make a change every year because we are going to otherwise hand over a problem to our children and grandchildren. But added to this, over the last two years, we were also seeing the pandemic, and I've seen some studies that say that maybe COVID-19 has been a good thing for emissions. So, my question to you is this is COVID-19 offering us a chance to radically change our behaviour and to help us comply with the Paris agreement? And also, has it been a sort of silver lining to all of this?

Therese:

So, in addition to the climate change repercussions and that we are seeing even flooding and so on, there is this pandemic going on and it's now it's in its second year, right? And in the first instances of the pandemic when there were all these lockdowns we saw images of the Himalayas and that we never saw before, cities in Beijing and Shanghai that were without smog and even then we started seeing the situation in Italy, in Europe, in France and also we experienced that in Malta. In fact, and I have carried out the study and there were severe reductions by 54% reductions in Msida which is a thoroughfare, that is a well polluted area and that is also an area that other academics have found that it is associated with diseases and fatalities and higher mortality rates than in other areas.

So, it was a silver lining for that short period of time because it showed us that if we reduce fossil-fuel-based mobility, there will be an improvement. So, it was an eye opener, this COVID situation. However, this was only for a very short period of time. We are seeing now that in reality it was only a dip in the statistics, in the data, and now we are back to normal mostly. And this is because activities started being carried out as usual. There have been initiatives and I'm not saying that they are no initiative. And from a European perspective, America, and other countries, Colombia, are also considering them. They are initiatives that include more active mobility like the Barcelona superblocks or the 15-minute city concept in Paris.

In Malta we also have this slow street initiative that was launched in June 2020 by the Local Councils’ Association, and the idea is to have temporary areas around Malta that do not allow cars in the area. However, how we need to look at it is that this was just a silver lining for us and an eye opener for us to see that something can be done to make a change and it showed us for a very short period of time what that change will lead us to; less pollution, improved visibility and better respiration. I had people commenting in my questionnaires that they started listening to birds. They started smelling flowers and this was this level of situation that pollution associated with fossil fuel vehicles was leading us to, and it's still leading us to that situation.

However, now what we need to do is that policymakers, politicians, look at that eye opener and use it to improve the situation. So, applying even more active mobility, encourage more people to use alternative modes of transport than using fossil fuel vehicles, and that is what the COVID-19 pandemic, I think, has let us to understand.

Recently on the news that teleworking will start as well for public service people, the public servants, in October. That is a good initiative as well, because it makes people change their way of life; their lifestyle changes. The pandemic has also taught us that. However, I need to emphasize the fact that teleworking alone does not solve the problem. Why? Because even from the results that I had from my research: during the pandemic, when people started teleworking, they shifted to mobility in another way. Now there were people who, ok started using active mobility even more. However, there was what is known as intrinsic utility.

If you look at transport I mentioned at the start of this podcast, what is known as the derived demand. And derived demand allows the user (the commuter) to move from positioning A to position B to carry out the activities at the end of position B. That could be education, it could be work. That is derived demand. It is when someone is travelling to achieve something at the end of the commute, of the journey, and it's associated with extrinsic utility. Then there is intrinsic utility. It is when you are using the mobility either, for example, if you are walking or cycling, automatically you are engaging in intrinsic utility because you are doing something else while you are traveling, you are doing active travel. So, there is physical activity going on for your health. If you are using the bus and you are reading you are gaining more experience from that journey.

So, with the pandemic, what happened is that when people started teleworking, they resorted to use their car to go out as a way of avoiding contagion. So that led to the car being used for intrinsic utility when before it was used for extrinsic utility, for derived demand, to reach a destination. So, this pandemic shifted the roles and it led for the car, which was before used to reach a destination and carry out the activities in that destination, it shifted the role to become an intrinsic situation where you are using the car to enjoy the countryside and that shouldn't be the case. You should enjoy the countryside if you walk in the countryside not travel around using the car.

So, when such policies are being implemented like teleworking, for example, it is important that they are combined with other policies such as in Malta we have a problem with our households. A lot of people live in very confined spaces. Most of the time they live in flats, and they do not have enough open space in which to share. So, such policies need to be combined also with urban planning policies, provide more open spaces for the people. If you are working from home also people reported that they were feeling even more lonely. So, it is important that you engage people even within the community, obviously being in the pandemic, keeping still the social distancing measures in place. So open spaces are more needed, there needs to be more community involvement at the local level and that is all part of the sustainable mobility and the greater umbrella of sustainability at the end.

Jeanette:

Of course, it is encouraging to understand through your research as well is that people are adaptable, and they are capable of change. And I think from some of the research that I've read, this pandemic has actually intensified and accelerated the way things were done. People who are working from home possibly were already doing some work from home before; people who have taken up cycling were possibly already some exposures to some cycling, maybe for leisure activities before, for example. So those trends are intensified and accelerated. So, we need to question whether our society is encouraging these sorts of behaviours, and you are saying, like with the introduction of these policies, maybe or combination of policies maybe they are, and I believe the decisions are ultimately up to the individual. But it is good that there is some sort of engineering behind the system so that we can make really a change for the public good. And so going back to the policy packages that you are mentioning should change be fuelled by say individual tax incentives? Or do you think that we could encourage employees or employers rather to give a commute to their employees as part of their corporate social responsibility, how do we stand with that dilemma?

Therese:

So, this was this is not a new thing. This this idea of that the employer does something for his or her employees. And in fact, there was what are known as green travel plans that can be implemented by employers, so that then their employees can start thinking about using alternative modes of transport. Now, in our case in Malta, the Planning Authority in some of its major projects requires that there is a green travel plan to take place. It's part of the contract in the permit. However, it is rarely really implemented.

We have an ongoing green travel plan at the University of Malta and where we are bound to provide reports on how it is going, how it is progressing, but the thing is that it is not, the green travel plan, is not a project, that is, it has a start date and end date. It's an ongoing process and this is what also employers need to understand. And even for their corporate social responsibility, having a green travel plan helps them change the culture within the organization itself. So, you would need to think about providing alternative modes of transport not only in terms of disincentivizing people, and not only in terms of taxes to make them change their use of mobility. But you need to think, it's in a balanced way. There needs to be carrots and sticks. That is, you need to provide the sticks, right? So, tax where it is necessary do not allow car use where it is unnecessary, avoid using some fossil fuel vehicles. But then, on the other hand, as a balance, and this is also what policy packaging is about, you need to provide the carrots: what people would use; that would need to be provided. We need to provide the right infrastructure. Safety in the streets for cycling. I'm sure that in Malta, if there was enough infrastructure and for people to walk safely and cycle safely in our road people will take that as an initiative and they will take it for sure because it is a healthy lifestyle, you spend much less money on your vehicle; you have a bicycle, you walk, and combined with public transport then it's a very good solution to this fossil fuel issue. Let's say that.

Yes, so employers need to take this into consideration. They can be catalysts, they can be the entities, the organisations that can show that they are successful story to make a change and that they can make a change - a cultural change within their community. And in that way if that community makes this change and it is a success story then it can be seen and taken on board by other entities. I'm saying this even from our university’s point of view. As a green travel plan it has had its very small successes because we have seen throughout the years also people cycling even more to university and there is, that need, that feeling that it needs to change, that there needs to be a change.

Jeanette:

Yes, I completely agree with change or transformation, maybe, things happening slowly but surely. And from this conversation I can sense a lot of takeaways for different stakeholders in this issue. There are, you know, the contribution by the public, the contribution by designers and the contribution by the authorities of course. Would you give us some nuggets to go away with them and think about them?

Therese:

Yes. So, from an individual perspective, I would say, and it is very easy to start thinking. You just need to think. And think about how you plan your day ahead and, in that way, you can help in making a change in the modes of transport that you use. And that can be reflected that if I do it and my neighbour does it and the other neighbour does it, that's the community approach. So individually we can become a community.

From going up further in the notch and looking at the local situation, local councils can have a more important role in making a change as well. They can engage in alternative mobility, they can help people organizing activities in open spaces, they can dedicate, like this a project of this slow streets, if it's implemented at a faster rate, it would be even better because people would see that it is happening and there would be a more car free areas in the village core that in reality and such environments would increase the footfall. What does that mean? People would start walking in the village core even more, and that boosts the economy when there are shops, small shops on a local level so it improves the local economy as well.

Then I would say from a policy point of view, the important thing is that - and planning point of view - is that transport is not seen alone, so it is important that there is synergy between the different entities in terms of urban planning, transport, the environment. They should all work together and not only that, even from a health point of view and education point of view. And I'm sure I'm missing other aspects that should be involved in the discussions, even more. So, stakeholder involvement is very important. And from a political point of view, I would say that think about the future. So, think about this strategy, we have strategy documents. It is important to try and implement a as much as possible for the current generations to benefit from them. So that is an important approach to take. So, it needs to be a concerted effort from the political, the policymakers, and from the individuals: they need to work together.

Jeanette:

Need we will have a big task ahead of us, but together we'll be able to do it. Thank you so much.

Therese:

Yes, and the whole OK. Unfortunately, it's easier said than done. However, motivation is what is needed.

Jeanette:

Exactly. Thank you so much Therese. That was a very interesting insight as to what's happening locally on sustainable mobility.

This was Therese Bajada, and you are listening to The Human Agenda.

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