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Government’s plan to combat air pollution: Giving up your driving licence for supermarket vouchers

Do you fancy giving up your driving licence for a period and receive vouchers to be used at supermarkets and taxi services? 

This is one of 25 suggestions being made in Malta’s plan to combat air pollution, which was published recently for public consultation. 

The Air Quality Plan drawn up by the Environment and Resources Authority in collaboration with the Environment Ministry targets Malta’s primary source of air pollution – transport. 

The proposal suggests a scheme whereby motorists voluntarily surrender their driving licence for a period and in return they will gain credit on a proposed mobility wallet. The intention is to reward their environmentally friendly behaviour. 

Rewards suggested in the plan are taxi services (preferably electric ones), grants to purchase electric bicycles, and vouchers which can be redeemed at supermarkets and other service providers. 

The proposal should be implemented in the ‘medium term’ but details are still sketchy and unlike other measures contemplated in the plan no timeline is given for its implementation.

Air Quality Plan with 25 proposals to tackle transport pollution includes: 

• Introduction of mobility wallet 

• Credits and vouchers for users who walk, cycle, use green transport 

• Tax on bulldozers 

• Scrap pre-2009 road licence distinction 

• Consultation on allowing 16-year-olds to drive scooters with small engines 

In view local studies showing that only a small fraction of particulate matter (PM10) originates from car exhaust pipes with more dust being caused by tyre and brake friction, the policy document calls for an “urgent need for modal shifts and reducing cars from the road, moving to more sustainable modes of transport such as cycling and walking”.

New app with green mobility wallet 

But the measure to voluntarily give up the driving licence depends on the introduction of a new mobile app that will allow users to have a green mobility wallet where credits can be deposited. 

The app will be developed and tested in 2024 and introduced to the public after 2025, according to the plan. 

This application will not only be used by those who partially surrender their licence but will also offer incentives to employees who commute to their workplace using sustainable modes of transport like walking, using shared vehicles (carpooling) and cycling or who telework on most days.

Green travel plans 

The plan also aims at incentivising employers who implement green travel plans which are increasingly becoming a requirement in the issue of planning permits for large scale developments. 

Employers can already claim a tax deduction of the costs incurred for the transportation of employees to and from the place of work, using vehicles capable of carrying more than eight persons. It is now being proposed to amend this legislation to include vehicles carrying four or more employees.   

Employers will be offered incentives for organising collective transport for their employees

Employers will be offered incentives for organising collective transport for their employees

Further incentives are also planned to encourage the collective transport for employees, which could be organised by private companies with the government’s support by creating specific pick-up points in localities from which the employees originate. 

This option would be open to all employees, especially those in manufacturing, hospitals and the hospitality sector, and to those willing to commute to and from work during a particular time of day.

Supervised walking bus 

The document also proposes a pilot project in one school whereby children would be supervised walking to school. 

This would apply for students living near the school. Depending on the outcome of the exercise and location of school, this exercise would feed into the possible extension of a nationwide project. Supervised and safe walking will also encourage children to understand the benefits of active travel from a young age.  

A proposed supervised walking bus for school children such as this in England will start with a pilot project

A proposed supervised walking bus for school children such as this in England will start with a pilot project

Another measure to reduce the traffic impact of schools is the provision of more online learning opportunities by tertiary educational institutions. If the effects on students’ learning and well-being are found to be positive, tertiary institutions will be supported in providing these opportunities. 

The government also intends to start a public consultation process on whether 16-year-olds will be able to sit for the driving test to obtain a licence to drive scooters with an engine no larger than 125cc.

Tax on bulldozers 

The plan also departs from Labour’s no taxation mantra, proposing an annual circulation tax for ‘non-road mobile machinery’ such as excavators and bulldozers that make use of the road network. 

Agricultural non-road mobile machinery is to be exempt from this measure, since these are mainly used and driven in rural areas and do not affect traffic in urban localities. 

Under the plans 'non-road' machinery like bulldozers that make use of the road network will be taxed

Under the plans 'non-road' machinery like bulldozers that make use of the road network will be taxed

The tax should be based according to the machine’s emissions with new machinery conforming to EU standards paying the least. 

The plan also proposes a revision of the annual circulation tax (road licence) but this should be accompanied by an impact assessment to determine the impact on lower income families. 

The proposed reform envisages that the annual circulation license fee will be the same for all vehicles, doing away with the current distinction between pre and post 2009 vehicles. 

In addition, the system proposed should include an adaptation of the post-2009 system linking the tax paid to the vehicle’s Euro standard. A Euro VI petrol vehicle would have a lower tax factor than a diesel vehicle with an older Euro standard. The annual circulation will thus reflect the emission standard of the vehicle and the weighting used will penalize vehicles with lower Euro standards. 

The amount of kilometres travelled could also be a factor in calculating the tax, but this will depend on how enforceable this measure is.

Getting rid of old second-hand cars 

The plan also seeks to address the high number of imported second-hand vehicles on Maltese roads, which increases the average age of the vehicle fleet. To decrease emissions, the number of imported vehicles, having a Euro 4 standard, or equivalent, must decrease. To this effect, the plan proposes a cut-off date on the importation of Euro 4 vehicles and older. This would be an intermediate cut-off date happening prior to the ban of imports on all internal combustion engine vehicles, proposed to start in 2034. But this proposal will also be subject to an assessment of its impact on social equity.

Countries using apps and mobility wallets

The Beeline app in use in Singapore

The Beeline app in use in Singapore

Singapore: Singapore's Beeline app provides commuters with rewards for using buses instead of cars. Users accumulate points when they choose sustainable transport options, which can be redeemed for various benefits.

China: Some Chinese cities have implemented apps and programmes that reward individuals for using public transportation, walking, or cycling. These initiatives aim to reduce air pollution and congestion.

France: Several French cities, including Paris, have introduced mobility wallet apps that encourage sustainable transportation choices. These apps offer rewards for using public transit, biking, or walking, and these rewards can be used for various services or incentives.

Germany: Germany has been exploring mobility wallet concepts in various cities. For example, the Mobility Budget pilot project in Hamburg encourages commuters to combine different modes of transportation, and participants receive incentives and discounts.