Stuck In Our Ways
The problem with public transport is not policy, it's us. It is the very foundation of our modern being that attracts us to the personal automobile. I have made certain to pen this piece in its entirety while riding public transport. In doing so I have attempted to truly capture the feeling as to why most never even consider catching a bus.
We find ourselves in the Occidental world, where freedom and self-determination are values taught to us not by our elders, but rather by cultural influence. This way of living was pushed primarily by the United States, which marketed these abstract concepts as part of their way to advertise personal automobiles in the early 1900s.
The phenomena of bumper to bumper traffic were force-fed to the American public, which was fiercely resistant to car manufacturers' goals to push the concept that self-determination and owning your own car were one and the same. The sentiment was so strong, caricatures were even drawn up to embody the public's fears of having so many of these metal beasts in the world.
Car manufacturers won out in time, convincing the public that taking your life into your own hands meant taking your own transport into your own hands. An idea so potent it perforated into mainstream culture taught to us in cinema and print.
The civilised world was made out to be one with cars on the road, and that's how our brains became hard-wired to believe it’s true. The first thing we think about on our 18th birthday is what model and brand we're buying, and the last thing we think when we're on the open road is when we'll ever catch a bus again.
As I sit here late for work and inevitably stuck in traffic, I see not a problem in policy, but mentality. It is this and this alone that pushes our government to funnel millions into new roads that will only make your journey that 2 minutes shorter. At the end of the day, why do government's do anything if not assured that it will guarantee them votes?
Policymakers know that if they had to ask the Maltese public whether they'd be willing to give up their cars, the response would be an astounding "NO". If they were to ask this, it would be effectively accosting us of our freedom and ability to drive our own vehicles, the two now being seen as one and the same.
We would also lose our own little realm of privacy, where we exist independently in our own cars. The automobile is but one factor of the antisocial animals we've become. Removing it will be forcing us back into society while we're on the road.
I say this aware of my hypocrisy, as a product of my environment, I already catch myself dreaming of a little AC on wheels and to get off this bus.
So, what can we do to change this? How does one change a mentality that was instilled into us generations ago? How do we make the sacrifice of "freedom" our parents enjoyed?
It is difficult to question any of this without coming off as "anti-car". Just as all governments build roads to appease a population full of drivers, even considering opposing the mentality is a daunting task. To do this one must break away from motives they care not for. Don't speak of trees or pollution, but rather of a newfound freedom, freedom from traffic.
It is inertly difficult for Malta to achieve this, we are a product of our environment and changing our behaviour seems self-destructive. If nothing else, it gives at least some context as to why we struggle with public transport on this island.
The only thing wrong with buses on this island is the cars that surround them. That and leaky AC's.