University to push for park-and-ride, other options as construction of four projects to start

Kevin Schembri Orland Friday, 22 February 2019, 15:33 Last update: about 50 minutes ago

The University of Malta is working to address the accessibility issues currently present at the University Campus, and talks will even talk with government in an attempt to identify two more park-and-ride sites for use by the university.

The accessibility issue recently sprung to the top of the news agenda when it was announced that the old university sports ground, which is surrounded by a running track, was to be used as a temporary car park, given that part of the university car park had to be closed off due to construction of the new Sustainable Living complex about to start, resulting in the loss of some 70 parking spots.

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This move saw widespread backlash on social media, and even a petition started, as concerns over runners’ safety and car-use mentality came to the fore.

University Pro-Rector Carmen Sammut and Communications Officer Pierre Cassar met with The Malta Independent to discuss the situation.

They explained that four major projects at the university are soon to commence which could cause certain parking issues around campus, and all are expected to be complete by 2021 and 2022.

Firstly, the old university sports ground will be upgraded and rebuilt, to include an eight-lane track, and will also house an indoor track and sports research facilities, among other things. This will cost around €25 million they said. This project will also include a 900-space underground car park, with half of the spaces being reserved for use by university staff and students, and the other half open to anyone. Obviously, they explained, the ground would need to be closed off while this project commences, hence the current decision to open up that ground as a car park is just a temporary one.

The Pro-Rector said that criticism that the university is more interested in parking than it is in sports is not true, highlighting this project as an example of the university’s commitment to sports.

There are currently around 15,000 university students and 3,000 staff, they said, while adding that over the years the number of people who use the university has been on the rise, while the number of parking spaces has been on the decline. They also said that the perception that all students use their car to travel to university is not true, as the buses coming in each day are always packed.

The problem, they said, is a double-edged sword, as if the university increases parking it would increase car use, yet if they reduce parking spaces the following criticism arises.

They informed this newsroom that yesterday, 300 cars utilised this temporary parking area, and that the university has also come up with some measures in an attempt to find a middle-ground with athletes. This temporary car park in the sports ground will only open between 7am and 6pm, they said, adding that it will be closed on weekends and public holidays. That way, athletes can make use of the track without car issues outside of those hours. In addition, they said that priority should be given to runners while the temporary car park is open to vehicles.

The KSU and the University have also come together and are pushing for alternative transport modes. One such example is that both are pushing for two more park-and-ride sites, with one preferably in Ta’ Qali and another preferably in Marsa, to service the South and Centre parts of the islands, they said.

As for the already existing Pembroke park-and-ride site, the University is working with the KSU to provide 1,000 subsidised passes to students and staff for it, which will be linked to the Tallinja card. The Pembroke park-and-ride currently costs €20 a month to use. The Pro Rector said that ideally this would be subsidised, but said that this would be a matter that needs to be discussed.

The University representatives also highlighted a number of initiatives undertaken by the KSU, including the introduction of CarToGo parking spots around campus, as well as two to three projects encouraging students to cycle to the campus. The Pro Rector highlighted that the students’ union is also currently working on a project to identify safe cycle routes to the university.

The University is also trying to identify which public transport routes to the university are not served well.

The other three major projects the university will soon commence works on are: The Sustainable Living complex – which will house a number of faculties and will cost  around €46 million (€26 million coming from EU funds); the Trans-Disciplinary Research and Knowledge Exchange Building (TRAKE) which will cost €38 million and make use of EU funds to house the post doctoral students, providing offices for them among other things; and lastly the university residence which is being undertaken in the form of a public-private partnership which, in addition to offering accommodation for university students, will also incorporate services such as childcare, include a language school and more, they said.

They said that the residence will also have a car park, however it is unknown at this stage whether it will be a private car park or not due to the public-private-partnership nature of the project.

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