With land, sea and air transportation under its portfolio, the new ministry of transport and civil aviation is taking a holistic approach to issues such as traffic congestion, ferry transport efficiency and airport infrastructure. It is a monumental task that the new cabinet has tackled head first.
What is the government’s vision for the transport sector in the Maldives?
This government has taken a new approach to the transport sector by reinstating the ministry of transport and civil aviation. This shows the importance of the sector for the new administration and its perception that improving transport conditions will bring benefits to the people. There are many things that need to be improved, from taxi services, to the port, the airport and marine connectivity services. Transport issues need to be addressed with a holistic approach so we can coordinate these efforts both with the interest of the people and our needs for economic development. Road safety, traffic congestion and improving the aviation sector at the human resource and infrastructure level.
How will you address these goals?
Many of the issues in the sector have gone unattended for long. It is not even a regulatory issue, but a problem of enforcing regulation. That is why our road safety records have not improved in years. As one of my first measures, we have imposed mandatory helmet use on the Malé/Hulhumale bridge. In addition to informing people via a campaign, we have also provided free helmets to improve safety and we strictly implement orders to penalize drivers that do not comply with the regulation. Now, for the first time, we finally see motorcycle drivers riding with helmets.
The taxi service is another relevant sector. For many years, taxi fares in Malé were fixed. With the new bridge, many taxi drivers charge fees that are four or five times as high just to cross it. This makes this unregulated service unaffordable for most people, which is why we started implementing taxi meters.
Furthermore, we are already deploying, through MTCC, a new route and fleet of minibuses to decongest the city as much as possible. Malé has reached a point where traffic is just unsustainable. We will continue to focus on environmentally-friendly transport solutions. Our mini-buses will be electric, we want to create free parking spaces specific for electric cars and create a subsidy plan for people to buy electric cars.
Outside Malé, we are improving the ferry connection system, which will greatly improve the lives of Maldivians everywhere. While in the Malé atoll many islands are well connected, in certain remote areas islands see no more than one or two ferries daily. While the ferry system is not a money-making endeavor, its service is essential for the people. The government will be subsidizing the ferry service, as its duty is to support an efficient maritime transport system for public benefit.
What is your vision for the new airport that is scheduled for 2021?
The airport expansion is a fundamental development for our country. We are reviewing the project the previous administration had pushed forward and we are making some important alterations. We understand the relevance of this infrastructure, so we are streamlining it. We want to build a cost-effective airport that will not only accommodate substantially larger number of tourists, but will also allow for expansion in the future. Therefore, we are designing it with a long-term solution in mind. We are also focusing on creating an aviation services-dedicated training institution for those that will provide services for the airport.
Once finished, issues such as the lack of aircraft parking spaces and limitations in the number of flight connections and even facilities for passengers will be substantially improved. Furthermore, we are working on improving six other airports across the country, some of which are international and will be fundamental in alleviating the congestion we see today at the international airport in Malé.