Building blocks for the future
Innovation, Enforcement and understanding change. These were three main threads
which wove together the responses which Brigadier (Retd) Jeffrey Curmi gave in an
interview by Malta Maritime Directory.
In a tour de force on the operations of Transport Malta, Brig. Curmi emphasised the
need for mindfulness when using personal transport, the improvements in connectivity through maritime links as well as being on the forefront of innovation.
The appointment of Brig. Jeffrey Curmi from leading the armed forces to leading transportation regulation in Malta bears more similarities than one might initially think. Aside from a remarkable structural similarity of operational set up, “entities not only assist each other, but they also share certain resources to be able to acquire a complete air and maritime picture,” noted Brig. Curmi. As an example of this, he cited the sharing and operation of the Vessel Traffic System; a system operated by both entities, with which they share information, as well as cooperate and coordinate maritime safety and security
For him, the management of Land, Air and Maritime regiments and their inter-relationship and inter-dependability were a precursor to what he is now managing at Transport Malta. “Malta being a small island state, its geo-strategical location in terms of sea lines of communication, its important role in the shipping sector, its maritime zones and sovereign interests, the importance of securing its national critical infrastructure and a never ending list of national interests, definitely necessitate both Transport Malta and the Armed Forces of Malta to not only cooperate, but at times join forces at strategic, operational and tactical levels of command,” observed Brig. Curmi.
… a never ending list
of national interests,
both Transport Malta
and the Armed Forces
of Malta to not only
cooperate, but at times
join forces at strategic,
operational and tactical
levels of command
Building blocks for the future
One of the main strongpoints which Brig. Curmi sees in Transport Malta is that as
an authority, it has always been at the forefront of innovation. “I believe that we should promote Malta more to become an innovation hub, not just in land transport but also in the aviation and maritime sectors. For example, TM was key in the proliferation of electromobility in Malta. It spearheaded the introduction of electric vehicles in Malta when EVs where still being introduced into European markets. Also, TM was quick to take on board the concept of mobility sharing when it was just being introduced in other larger countries”, he noted.
Brig. Curmi believes that his role is to refine the operations of the regulator and provide its staff with the necessary tools and resources to be better able to perform and excel within their roles. As a case in point, he targets the enforcement section: “Having such a wide portfolio of regulations in all spheres encompassing the transport sector, we also need to further innovate –
and invest in our enforcement sector.” A third building block which Brig. Curmi sees in his arsenal is the registries, both maritime and aviation. “We also have great opportunities in the Aviation sector as our 9H aircraft registry is slowly but surely becoming a leading aircraft register, but not only, the great strides in drone technology will be a sector which we will encourage to grow.
“One of our strongest point remains our Malta Ship Register, which is currently the largest in Europe. We need to make sure that we will strengthen our position and further improve our global standing. “We also need to continue promoting our flag when it comes to super yacht registration and surely this sector will be one upon which we will be building.
“Apart from the success in our shipping registry, we are also moving ahead with new initiatives such as the Shore to Ship technology for berthing vessels in our ports, which is intended to make our ports cleaner by reducing harmful emissions, especially to residents living in the surrounding towns and villages,” said Brig. Curmi
We also have great opportunities in the Aviation sector as our 9H aircraft registry is slowly but surely becoming a leading aircraft register
Given that Malta is an island, sea and air transport are vital to import and export persons and goods.
photo: a Cargo Ship being unloaded at Malta Freeport Terminals
each other, and
hence are not
to be tackled
Remaining on the ‘innovation ball’ The importance of innovation is evident
throughout the interview. Brig. Curmi said that Transport Malta needs to “instigate innovative thinking across all transport modes. Given that Malta is an island and hence sea and air transport are vital to import and export persons and goods, he strongly believes that the three modes of transport have to complement each other, and hence are not to be tackled separately: a factor which would become yet more obvious in events of crisis management.
Walking for a purpose Acknowledging that “Travel has become an integral part of our lives”, Brig. Curmi makes a case for mindfulness in using private transport, noting that we use this mode of transport for 84% of all activity in a typical day.
Lockdown during the covid pandemic demonstrated that measures such as online shopping, remote working options and staggered working hours make a difference on alleviating the pressure during peak hours on road network. He feels that these measures should be further considered. “We need to evoke a culture change. People often walk for leisure, but there needs to be a shift in mentality to also walk for purpose,” said Brig. Curmi. “Do our traditional public transport services cater for these situations? Currently not entirely, meaning that we need to explore other services which suit people’s needs, such as for example considering more transport-on-demand services. On the other hand Transport Malta also believes that active mobility such as cycling and walking or the use of kick-scooters for shorter distance travel should be encouraged,” noted Brig. Curmi.
“We will also revisit the idea of safe cycle routes and corridors in towns and villages, coupled by pedestrianisation projects and safety measures to make such modes safer to use,” he added.
Public transport conundrum
With public transport now free for all, Brig. Curmi observed that the country has one of the most extensive public transport systems in Europe with an average walk of 5 minutes to the nearest bus stop.
So what needs to change? “Improvements in more accurate real time information, more frequent bus services, and improving bus infrastructure on the road network are all measures which can entice the public to utilise the bus service more frequently,” said Brig. Curmi. Moreover, a drive to improve the take up of free transport for school children, currently standing at 43% could help to further alleviate the morning gridlock. Another obstacle to freer roads is the haphazard parking habits, mainly onstreet spaces. Moving on-street parking
spaces underground is another strategy being used in order to alleviate traffic on
the road network,” said Brig. Curmi. Such a strategy would benefit drivers in reducing the stress to find suitable parking. Coupled with an eye on future electric vehicles Brig. Curmi said that Transport Malta is “…also studying carefully the possible introduction of a fast and reliable mass rapid transport system, which could partially address the issue of both traffic congestion and car parking.”
Brig. Curmi said that the Transport Master Plan 2025 is the first overarching document to ever lay out the vision and strategic direction for all the transport sectors in Malta and Gozo. This document provides the information and the tools needed for improving the transportation system and serves to influence decisions regarding priorities and funding allocations. “Many factors had to be considered when developing this plan such as modes of transportation, technology, infrastructure, demands and users,” said Brig. Curmi.
walk for leisure,
but there needs
to be a shift in
mentality to also
walk for purpose
The more stringent environmental standards and climate goals, coupled up with
an ever-increasing population, more mobility demands and the increased pressures on the transportation network, he said, are being factored in. “Currently, an extensive exercise is being carried out with all the relevant stakeholders to collate a better understanding of the situation,” he explained. Changes, he observed, have occurred over the years and hence there is need to update certain measures in order to remain relevant in today’s world, such as for instance in relation to digitalisation, electrification, and conformity to environmental standards. Testing is being carried out on appropriate models so that TM can assess aspects such as congestion, air quality and emissions, and accident generation. Once that is done,
educational campaigns would be necessary to encourage people to make lifestyle changes which would ultimately benefit themselves.
modes of sea
is a weather
“Striking the correct balance across all transport sectors and relevant areas will not be an easy feat given the number of users and the limitations,” said Brig. Curmi. Over the sea to…
Moving on from land transport, Brig. Curmi noted another burgeoning transport 7sector: transport by sea. Domestic and short sea (Sicily-Italy) sea transport have
improved significantly with a number of scheduled reliable services being offered by both under a public service obligation (such as Gozo Channel) and private operators in a highly competitive market. The Malta-Gozo fast ferry scheduled service has now been running for a year and patronage, said Brig. Curmi, is increasing. The harbour ferries and the fast ferry are also linked with the Barrakka lift which gives added value and flexibility. “There is one constraint that will always be there and that is the weather and sea conditions. “We have to accept the reality that for certain modes of sea transport there is a weather window and seasonality. I think there is enough visibility of the services that are available. In my opinion, while there is always scope to improve the services, it is a matter of lifestyle and culture. Maybe we can do more in this respect to increase awareness, especially in the use of the inter-harbour ferry services and maybe similar services operating
around the coast which might evolve in the future. Such a change in mentality, even if seasonal for sure will help in reducing road traffic congestion.
“There is clearly more awareness and interest from the general public to use marine transport as an alternative mode to land transport and I am sure that the services will continue to evolve in all sectors: inter-island, intra-island and short sea,” said Brig. Curmi.
Turning to safety at sea, Brig. Curmi emphasized that with increased boat ownership, TM strives to ensure that new skippers are well trained and conversant with boat handling. Extensive training and licences courses are available and are also required for boat use. “Maritime Enforcement Officers also carry our routine patrols and spot checks throughout the year, especially to ensure that boats used in the practical sessions are duly certified and licensed and are in possession of the required documents at all times.
photo: an electric van donated by Transport Malta to the Malta Community Chest Fund; for the comfortable transportation of persons with disabilities. This humanitarian gesture embodies the Authority’s additional objective of reducing the country’s traffic congestion and carbon footprint simultaneously
“Over the least few years, and especially over the last 24 months, Transport Malta has invested heavily to upgrade its Maritime Enforcement Department with bigger and more powerful vessels equipped with the latest technology to improve its efficacy and response, wherever it happens around the coast. TM has also and is still investing to have its own modern fleet depot with the necessary equipment and amenities. Furthermore, TM is also making sure that its own maritime enforcement officers are continuously being trained to improve their navigational skills and knowledge,” said Brig. Curmi. The maritime register has indeed been increasing over the last 6 years. It is currently around the 700 mark and there is potential of exceeding 800 next year. This growth is extraordinary when one considers Malta’s size. The challenges are always about reputation and efficiency. The bigger you grow the more pressure is put on the system and the more resources are required. “Malta has been declared the best place for aircraft registration based on the
over the last 24
months, Transport Malta has invested
heavily to upgrade its Maritime
Cape Town Compliance List giving our registry an edge with lessors. Now that Malta is held at such high levels and repute, the challenge is to stay on top and not be complacent and lose ground,” noted Brig. Curmi.
In the case of aviation, Brig. Curmi said that resources are required to spur on further growth. “No country would refuse growth
and as they say, the sky is the limit. There are two facets that need to have equal importance and keep in mind: convincing people to invest in Malta but also supporting those who are already here. One cannot focus on the attraction side to the detriment of the existing operators. So growth needs to be supported by adequate resources both in manpower, knowledge, equipment and even ease of operation,” he observed.
As the interview draws to a close, one comes away with a feel of the gargantuan task which faces whoever undertakes the leadership of this massive authority. Perhaps, the biggest challenge its driver faces is not so much the massive and rapid change in transport modalities but the need to convince the public to change lifestyles. Here too, having Brig. Curmi’s disciplined mindset at the helm is clearly a strategic asset. Indeed, he concluded our interview by declaring “My intention is to get all minds and skills working in harmony together, to make the Authority a more effective and efficient organization that effectively serves the interests of the nation and its citizens.”