Leo Olivero

Transport is a hot topic of conversation in Gibraltar; there are even a few dedicated social media groups on traffic, roads and transport. No doubt the traffic issue/problem will be a high profile topic at the forthcoming local election later on in the year. 

Traffic congestion has become an alarming situation; most of our time is lost in traffic jams. Moreover, the competent authorities create even more problems by installing obstacles. With a growing number of portable traffic lights installed and scattered around causing more jams.

The issue that infuriates many, is the daily shameful sight of the growing army of amateur Spanish traffic officers, dressed up as Spanish workers holding shabbily make-shift traffic wands and wearing florescent visibility vest, some vest displaying Spanish company logo’s and name, others, even wear hi-viz vest with the coat of arms of the neighbouring municipality. This shabby looking lot, on daily basis, take on traffic control duties by all development sites, which as we all know, is mostly everywhere.

And with the Spanish Governments anti-Gibraltar frontier queues now increasing well into the late evening, there is talk of Spanish workman getting paid overtime to direct traffic when the third lane is implemented to give the RGP a relief.... But Seriously:

Is this the kind of persona we want to project and the depths Gibraltar Traffic policing has descended to: ‘the word protecting the image of our sovereignty comes to mind’.

One thing we can all agree on is that our transport infrastructure is essential to safeguarding our economic progress and enabling us to become a European and global player!

Traffic also has a significant environmental impact and in turn, a huge effect on our quality of life. Any investment into any of these hugely important matters should be to the benefit of all of us.

It’s no secret that older vehicles, like lorries and similar forms of transport and many others, which cross the frontier daily, are terrible pollutants, contributing to a poisonous problem in Gibraltar that we do need to tackle urgently. Air pollution is linked to asthma, heart disease and lung cancer and it also affects the built heritage and animal and plant health.

If we are to hit our emissions targets and clean up our air, we must make people love our efficient free bus service or any other environmentally friendly manner of moving round. Efforts like this will help to curb the number of vehicles on the roads, which would not only help reduce pollution, but also free up space for the bus service to run more smoothly.

Successive governments have told us they would invest to fix the roads and re-arrange existing ones in a bid to have traffic move as smooth as possible. In the latter respect, many areas of our limited road network require immediate attention.

The authorities must realise, that given the number of vehicles on our roads, the quality of road construction has to improve dramatically. Although equipment is not lacking, flaws abound in the construction of roads.

I am no expert, but some people who do know, have confirmed, that things like insufficient tarmac is used on some roads, resulting in cracks or depressions, examples are many, take a drive round when roads are not so busy. I am also informed the tarmac used does not contain the proper-sized material that helps make braking much better.

The local Transport people must surely be wondering from where to start. They are held accountable, but do they have control over the quality of the road works?

Few speak of maintenance and in the rare occasions this happens, the work appears slipshod. What the authorities seem to overlook is that if the roads were built the proper way, as happens elsewhere, there would be fewer problems, less need for maintenance and, of course, less costs.

In my opinion, and I know many others feel the same, local roads have never been built efficiently, even painted in any effective manner, some road markings seem to disappear soon after the paint job is complete!

Quality of Roads Not Taken Seriously

I hate to say it, but it’s unfortunate, that in my opinion of course, none of the two big political parties has ever taken the quality of roads seriously. They did not even consider that life or limb might be at risk. They did not bother about the possible increase in road accidents and neither the damage vehicles sustain.

Another valid point is that costs can also be controlled and quality maintained if there was better coordination between the ‘Transport Authority’ and other ministries/agencies responsible for the utilities. The result is laying a new surface on a road one day, and as we have often seen, digging it up again soon after and then redoing it in a sloppy way, which is worse!

Technology Ever Evolving

Technology in this respect, is ever evolving, similar to other places, Gibraltar must strive to get ahead of the curve. Buses will always complement other methods within a wider framework and the bus network can also evolve, an example is by introducing a modern electric bus transport system.

What about shared electric cars which would also complement electric buses as part of a holistic system, along with smaller electric shuttles for our narrow urban lanes and restricted upper town roads.

Government Has Introduced Measures – But Not Enough

To be fair, the Government has introduced a lower tax or zero fuel duty for Plug-in electric vehicles (and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles) do not incur fuel duty for the electricity they use. The Transport Minister has said the decarbonisation of vehicles is another measure being implemented by the Government to reduce transport-based emissions in Gibraltar, but this does not appear to be acceptable or is going fast enough.  

The Ministry of Infrastructure and Planning, and the Ministry for Education, Heritage, the Environment, Energy and Climate Change, have also jointly launched the electric vehicles charging stations at the Midtown Car Park. 

The Police Need to Reintroduce a Dedicated Traffic Department Disbanded Years Ago

It is quite obvious that efforts to educate drivers have fallen on deaf ears, steps taken by RGP over recent years during their Operation Roadwatch initiative, has fallen by the wayside in recent times. Obviously, it did not have the desired effect. And why its about time more drastic steps are taken!

Firstly, RGP once again, should reform its dedicated Traffic Department, which some bright spark at New Mole House decided to scrap. Traffic police should be increased to cover all roads, its no good relying on Spanish building site workers to control traffic for them.

Gibraltar deserves a better quality of policing regarding those daily issues that seriously affects the daily life of the ordinary citizen!

Persistent traffic offenders must be penalised either by an on the spot fine and/or if necessary by the withdrawal of the driving licence by the courts, the introduction of a driving licence penalty point system would also help, but this is taking for ever to introduce, if its ever going to happen? And the latter system MUST also apply to Spanish or any or foreign drivers...If laws need changing to make it happen, then what are people waiting for!

More traffic control cameras must be introduced immediately. The list of traffic infringements is endless but one may quote the more common ones. On top of the list is the dangerous practice of overtaking by crossing the double line in the middle of the road. Speeding and reckless driving are very common.

Traffic signs, like zebra crossings, one-way roads and the traffic control lights are quite often ignored. Road manners leave much to be desired. Bus drivers also stop in the middle of the road to pick/drop off passengers, bringing traffic to a halt. Not much better are the delivery van drivers, who stop and park their van anywhere they like.

The traffic problem being faced by Gibraltar is common to many towns, cities and even villages across Europe. The number of cars on our roads has surely reached saturation point and I sincerely feel the only realistic solution is to go for a more efficient and dependable means of public transport.

Sooner or later we will have to do so. It might as well be sooner. The alternatives are to wait when total gridlock is the order of the day or when the law of the traffic jungle has prevailed!!!