Put Malta-Gozo fast ferry under public ownership, Graffitti tells government

5 October 2022| Times of Malta 

Both companies operating the service have reduced their winter trips. File photoBoth companies operating the service have reduced their winter trips. File photo

NGO Graffitti has called on the government to put the Malta-Gozo fast ferry under public ownership to ensure that the needs of residents are prioritised.

In a statement, it demanded immediate government action for the timetable to be restored within the framework of a service that prioritised the common good.

Virtù Ferries and Gozo Fast Ferry both announced new winter schedules for trips from Valletta to Gozo under which the last ferry will leave Valletta as early as 4.30pm on weekdays. They said their last trip would leave Mġarr, Gozo at 5pm on weekdays and 5.30pm on weekends.

The slashed timetable drew sharp condemnation from Gozitan business and student lobby groups, as well as from the Gozo Tourism Association.

Soon after it was announced, the government offered a two-year, €12 million public service contract to continue operating the ferries and the two operators pledged to increase the number of trips once these talks are concluded.

Graffitti said on Wednesday it is angered “at the sudden and unjust reduction” of the service, a necessary link for students and workers commuting between the islands.

“The provision of this fast ferry service via two private companies that need to turn a profit, instead of a public service run for the common good, was a grave mistake from the outset that made the current flop inevitable,” it said.

Graffitti said that just 15 months after being inaugurated, the Gozo fast ferry, which was intended as an efficient game changer for commuting between the two islands, is facing a sudden excision of its service.

“Until last week, 12-13 trips a day were being offered by the fast ferry between Malta and Gozo. Suddenly, without prior notice, the Gozo Fast Ferry service was slimmed down to just five trips a day, with a couple of morning trips and a couple of evening trips.

“Ironically, while this essential service is being allowed to falter, the government is proposing an unviable and destructive airstrip in Gozo in the name of improved connectivity between the islands.

“This is an insult to all Gozitan and Maltese residents,” it said.

Graffitti said that many had, over the past months, become increasingly reliant on the fast ferry, hoping to avoid traffic by travelling directly to Valletta.

Some ditched their cars and the ability to board the fast ferry by bicycle made it an attractive service to many bicycle users. “Its sudden excision is unacceptable and needs to be reversed immediately.”

It noted that the government’s offer to subsidise companies that will improve their service in no way constituted a long-term solution for the provision of an effective and affordable fast ferry. It also makes little financial sense for government to use taxpayers’ money to subsidise the profits of private companies when it can offer the service itself directly.

“As an essential public service, the provision of a fast link between Valletta and Gozo should have been under public ownership from the start. The government’s insistence on approaching the private sector and then heavily subsidising the service when it flopped shows that its priority is, as always, business over the common good.

“Privatisation of this service has already led to an increase in fares and the rollback of the use of the Tallinja card, which had provided public transport streamlining, demonstrating how public services run by private companies actually make a service worse, not better,” Graffitti insisted.