Public transport in Majorca.

Public transport in Majorca.

10-09-2019jmartiny

The national government delegation in the Balearics will have had its workload reduced in one regard since the state of alarm was declared. The staging of protests, rallies, marches, demonstrations requires advance notice to be given to the delegation and for the delegation to provide its authorisation and to coordinate the relevant security forces.

For obvious reasons there have been no advance notices and no protests. Labour Day came and went in virtual fashion; the delegation's permission is not needed for the advocacy of workers' rights via Facebook and YouTube. The first of May demonstrations would have attracted thousands, while there would have been other, far smaller protests, had it been possible to stage them. One would have been against the reactivation of work on the Llucmajor-Campos dual carriageway, an environmentalist road-building cause célèbre without anything like the same level of protest that once surrounded the building of the Inca motorway, the first stage in particular. In February 1978, the Guardia Civil fired rubber bullets during a protest that was led by the Farmers Union but which had attracted any number of dissident groups.

There have been demonstrations against roads for decades, as there have also been the demands for improved public transport. The opposition to the Llucmajor-Campos road combines these different ingredients. Unable to physically demonstrate, the environmentalist lobby can offer only remote and symbolic protest, while the road itself has suddenly become a different symbol. Central to the mobility and sustainability conversation, the road is representative of the abrupt disruption to this conversation; in a Covid scenario, private transport has its safety advantages.

From the outset in 2015, the pact government in the Balearics placed public transport high among its priorities. The achievements have been patchy. The electrification of the whole of the existing rail network has been completed, but the government - via the SFM rail company - managed to get itself embroiled in what was an unnecessary industrial dispute, a consequence of which was a reduction in services; these are only now being fully redressed. SFM, the success of electrification notwithstanding, has been a source of problems - the maintenance contracting has been one, while there have been the complaints about rush-hour overcrowding.

This "saturation" of the trains is not going to be resurfacing for the foreseeable future. As with anything Covid-related, we can't really say how things are going to pan out and how quickly for public transport. Away from the Balearics, we have the UK's transport minister, Grant Shapps, suggesting there will be a 90% reduction of public transport network capacity because of a need for social distancing.

Majorca isn't the UK, but there will be capacity reductions, and as such they blow a mighty hole in the government's ambitions for public transport. The plan for Majorca includes the tram from the centre of Palma to the airport, the extensions to the rail network, such as to Alcudia and Arta/Cala Ratjada, the extension to the Metro, the new concessions for the bus network, replete with - as the government has repeatedly stated - some 50% more kilometres being covered by roughly the same percentage increase in services.

The new concessions for the bus network should have been functioning by now. They aren't because the government found itself in a legal tangle regarding the awarding of these concessions. This was resolved last October, and so the concessions (three of them to cover the island outside Palma) are scheduled to be operating after this summer. Yes, but if public transport is hampered, what happens to the financial arrangements for these concessions? The planning for them has been blown completely off course.

By 2026, according to the government's strategic mobility plan, the use of the car will come down from 56% of all journeys to 36%, the use of public transport will rise to 13%, with the rest being on foot (42%) or on bikes (nine per cent). This may well still turn out to be the case, but there have to be serious doubts. Apart from any enduring issues regarding public transport capacity on health grounds, there is the finance. The ten million-plus euros of tourist tax revenue for a short extension to the Metro now looks even more dubious than it already was. But that's chicken feed by comparison with the investment that had been contemplated for the rail projects, on top of which there is also the investment in electric mobility infrastructure.

This said, the government will be keen to ensure that projects go ahead. If nothing else, they offer employment. What it will not be keen on and will not do is to reverse policy regarding the building of roads. Llucmajor-Campos, a necessary project (especially because of road safety), is something of an anomaly. But in the grand scheme of things for sustainable mobility it isn't. The sustainability of the private vehicle has never been more necessary.

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