Energy and transport policies are kingpins of government and politics, in addition to foreign affairs, law and order, the economy, taxation, sport and culture. In Gibraltar energy policy boils down to the production of electricity and its cost. That is a debate for another day, especially the lack of a new power station and the cost of electricity.
What about transport? Putting the cable car to one side, the only means of transport in Gibraltar is its roads. This alone limits us to using our legs to walk or run with or with which to cycle, private means of transport i.e. cars or motorbikes or using the public bus service or taxis. Are these really the only affordable options? I believe there is another cheap and innovative means of transport that could be introduced but first a look at the raging debate about buses is of interest.
Recent events concerning the bus service have resulted in argument on two fronts; whether the experiment to run a "free" service is working is one, the effectiveness of the new bus routes is another. It seems there is much discontent on the subject of the new bus routes. I do not know enough about bus routes to comment on that debate. My view, however, is that the bus company should look at this issue again carefully, hear the complaints being aired and act to put right any criticims made by the public that are found to validly indicates that any aspect has gone wrong.
Public comment also indicates that the idea of having a "free" bus service has not worked well. We hear that tour operators are taking advantage of this service to provide tours for tourists free of charge. The result is that normal bus users are unable to take their daily and usual journeys. This, in turn, defeats much of the purpose of having a "free" service, which is to discourage the use of private transport by encouraging the use of public transport.
The idea to have "free" buses could be good but only if it can be made to work. I do not believe that simply having a free bus service will significantly reduce traffic. A "free" service will only be effective if at the same time the use of private means of transport is discouraged. It can be discouraged by congestion charges or by increasing the overall cost of parking in public spaces. It is unlikely that either of these options will be introduced due to the popularity of cars in Gibraltar and the consequent electoral unpopularity that will attach to any political party that introduces such charges.
If one accepts that unpopular charges for the use of cars will not be introduced then one has to look at alternatives. One should look at a system that incentivises the use by residents of Gibraltar but does not do so for non-residents. How can this be achieved? Simple really, charge everyone to use the buses but have a system that reduces the cost to all without discrimination but in a manner that in practice only makes it cheaper for residents.
This system is called competiticvely priced non-transferable "season tickets" with photographic identification on its face. In this way locals can buy cheaper prepaid tickets for defined periods of time. Additionally, this system has the advantage that it will provide to the bus company income from both the sale of season tickets and sale of tickets per journey to visitors, which will ease the burden on the public purse without undermining the wish to encourage the usage of bus transportation. If this system is introduced the privileges for resident over 60s to travel should be reintroduced.
Turning to a cheap alternative means of transport, my solution is free robust public lifts as used e.g. in the London Underground. You may laugh but this is a form of transport used elsewhere e.g. in Monaco. The first step is to construct public lifts in stand alone towers at various points along the front of the fortifications that run along the Line Wall fortifications. This will mean that all buses can be re-routed out of the central town, thus helping, also, to decongest traffic in the central town area.
My second suggestion is to include public lifts in strategic buildings to facilitate acess to anf from the upper town e.g. in the proposed new multistory car park to be built in Engineer Lane. These public lifts could give access from certain parts of the upper town to Main Street and surrounding area. It may also be possible to construct such lifts at various other strategic spots to connect the upper with the lower town but I will leave that to the technical people to determine viability.
The simple effect of this idea is to create access on the east/west axis of Gibraltar and from higher parts of the rock to lower parts and vice versa as opposed to the existing predominant requirement to gain access everywhere on the north/south axis. It may sound crazy but, simple ideas, like this one, are the ones that often work best. I leave it to technical people to tell me why it will not work. after all I am just a lawyer.