Maltese Public Transport since 1856
Early means of transport
Up to the mid 1800s the only means of human transport was the horse, cart or kaless (caleche). Priveleged people also used the Sedan Chair.
The Sedan Chair known in Maltese as is-suġġetta, was a grand enclosed vehicle borne on two poles. It had a door at the front and a window on each side and required two strong men, who were often harnessed, to carry it, or at times even four if the distance travelled was particularly long. Utilized by privileged people, these highly prestigious showpieces were in use primarily during the 17th and 18th centuries, and were at times emblazoned with a coronet or coat-of-arms of the owner. It allowed people to negotiate muddy streets without getting their clothes and shoes dirty.
The Kaless (Maltese Caleche) consisted of a cabin on a pair of large wheels on the rear end. The wheels were made of hard solid wood covered by a thick iron rim. It was drawn by a single mule or horse and driven by a man on foot who kept pace with the animal. All the weight of the Kaless was borne by the horse or mule.
The Kaless was introduced to Malta at the end of the eighteenth century, during the time of the Knights. It was very popular in the streets of Valletta and in the three cities around the Grand Harbour.
The cabin used to be painted black or dark green sometimes panelled with the coat of arms of the owner. Sometimes it would sport a lamp or two allowing the Kaless to be used by night too. The interior was upholstered with very fine fabric or damask. Curtains put behind the windows served to embellish the Kaless and offered privacy and protection from the summer elements.
The ride was rough since the cabin did not have any spring suspensions but was slung on leather thongs. This caused the cabin to swing a lot. As such they are described by Captain Thomas Walsh in his Journal of the Late Campaign in Egypt (London, 1803) as being ‘very clumsy awkward carriages…which shake the unfortunate passengers to pieces’
Il-Karozzin or “The Horsedrawn Carriage” was a popular means of transport in the Maltese islands in olden days. It was introduced to Malta in the mid nineteenth century and unlike the Kaless the carriage rider could drive the carriage sitting. This means of transport was a common scene and one could see and hear the sound of hooves beating and clicking on the ground as the horsedrawn carriage passed through villages and towns, through the countryside and also along coast roads of the Maltese islands. The poor people depended on the horsedrawn carriage to take them on errands outside their village. The Horse Drawn Carriage was also used on special feasts and occasions such as Carnival or a wedding ceremony. Today the horsedrawn carriage is popular among tourists who would like to go round the old capital city Mdina and Valletta.
The first Omnibus was brought to Malta in October 1856 from England by a certain Ċensu Attard.
A month later on 28 November, the public was informed that this ominbus, which carried 16 passengers, was expected to start operating on Sunday 30 November 1856.
6.30 a.m: Departure from Lija to Valletta Belt passing from Balzan, Birkirkara, San Giuseppe (Ħamrun), Tas-Samra, Floriana, Valletta.
8.00 a.m: Return trip from Valletta to Lija on the same route.
3.30 p.m: Another trip from Lija to Valletta followed by a return trip to Lija
When Ċensu Attard’s omnibus started operating on 30 November 1856 it was a success. The fare for a return trip was 5d.
Paul Galea went to France and on 21 October 1856 he bought 6 omnibuses (carrying 27 passengers each) from Paris at a cost of 2,700 Franks. He also bought most of the horses needed to draw these omnibuses. Ten horses were brought onboard the French ship Euphrates on 2 November 1856. Two omnibuses arrived in Malta onboard the French ship Hydaspe on 4 January 1857. Another two omnibuses arrived in Malta on 11 January 1857.
The company started operating on the Lija-Valletta route on 11 January 1857. However, from 19 January 1857 the Company started operating also the St-Julian’s to Valletta route. These routes were operated from Monday to Saturday.
The timetable was as follows:
Valletta-Lija Route: operating four times a day leaving Valletta at 7.00am, 11.45am, 3.20pm and 4.40pm
Lija- Valletta Route: operating four times a day leaving Lija at 7.00am, 8.05am, 1.30pm and 5.30pm.
Valletta-St Julian’s Route: operating three times a day leaving Valletta at 11.55am, 2.30pm, 4.30pm
St Julian’s Valletta Route: operating twice a day leaving St Julian’s at 6.45am and 4.15pm
The fare from Lija and St Julian’s was 4d. The fare from B’Kara was 3d and the fare from Hamrun was 2½d.
On 20 March 1857 the service was extended to the Zebbug-Valletta route. Some trips used to be organised to Mdina and sometimes even to St Paul’s Bay.
THE MALTA RAILWAY
The Malta Railway consisted of a single railway line from Valletta to Mdina and was the only railway line ever on the island of Malta. It was a single track line in meter-gauge, operating from 1883 to 1931.
From 1870 proposals were launched to connect the capital of Malta, Valletta, with its old capital Mdina by rail. The time of travelling could be reduced this way from three hours to half an hour. More concrete was the planning of the engineering firm of Wells-Owen & Elwes, London. Due to problems with the expropriation of land in favour for the line, its building could not be finished until 1883. On 28 February 1883 the line was opened between Valletta and Notabile (Mdina).
Finances of the railway always proved critical. On 1 April 1890 the first proprietor, the Malta Railway Company Ltd., went bankrupt and the railway stopped running. As a result of this the government took over the railway, invested in its infrastructure and reopened traffic on 25 January 1892.
From 1895 onwards, an extension of the line was under work aiming for the barracks at Mtarfa behind the historic city of Mdina. This extension was opened for traffic in 1900.
On 31 March 1931 the line was closed due to economic insufficiency. In 1903 a company was founded which ran tramways on Malta from 1905 on, partly parallel to the railway line. It gave up this traffic in 1929. But both, tramway and railway fell victim to the oncoming bus traffic. The railway-tunnel running under the fortifications of Valletta was used as an air-raid-shelter during World War II. Long stretches of the former railway line were converted into roads. Some of the railway buildings are still in existence.
The line connected Valletta and Mdina and a number of settlements in between. The first two stations, Valletta and Floriana, were underground. The Line extended over 11.1 km, climbing 150 meters at a maximum of 25 Per mil. The line crossed roads by 18 level crossings of which 14 were staffed. The roads were chained off when a train was approaching. Originally the line was constructed with rails of 42 pounds per foot and replaced when the government took over the railway in 1890 by those of 60 pound per foot to allow heavier locomotives to run on the line.
During its lifetime the railway had only 10 locomotives. These were built by Manning Wardle & Co. Ltd., Leeds, Black, Hawthorn & Co Ltd., Gateshead, and Beyer, Peacock & Co. Ltd., Manchester. Most of them were 2-6-2 and 2-6-4 engines.
The locomotives were painted dark olive green with black wheels and frames. The smokebox was also painted black and the buffer beams were painted vermilion. The locomotives carried a brass oval number plate with the brass number raised on a red background.
Locomotives 1 to 3 normally hauled 4 or 5 carriages up the 1 in 60 bank from Valletta to Birkirkara and 4 carriages up the 1 in 40 bank up to Notabile. Manning Wardle 2-6-4 Tank Locomotive No 2
Locomotive 4 normally hauled 5 or 6 carriages.
Locomotives 5 & 6 were almost twice the weight of the earlier locomotives and could haul up to 10 carriages. Manning Wardle 2-6-4 Tank Locomotive No 5 outside the engine shed at Hamrun. Manning Wardle 2-6-4 Tank Locomotive No 5
Locomotives 7 to 10 being more powerful normally hauled up to 10 carriages and at festivals as many as 12. During the First World War troop trains composed of more than 12 carriages were common running non stop from Valletta to Museum with locomotive 4 used as a banker. Beyer Peacock 2-6-4 Tank Locomotive No 9 and train at Hamrun Station
The 7 mile line was single track throughout with a run round at Valletta and Museum stations and passing loops at other stations. The locomotives were oriented with the smokebox of locomotives 2 & 8 facing Valletta terminus. Locomotives 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9 & 10 smokebox facing Museum terminus. It soon became apparent that the 42 lbs. per foot rails were insufficient for the heavier locomotives and a program of replacement with more substantial 60 lbs. per foot rails was started.
The carriages were wooden on iron frames. First and third class was provided. The seats were parallel to the line on both sides of an aisle. Originally illuminated by candles this was changed to electricity powered by batteries in 1900. When the railway stopped running 34 carriages were in use. One third-class-carriage is preserved, was restored and placed beside the former station building of Birkirkara.
On weekdays the train service consisted of 13 trains down and 14 up between Valletta and Museum. In additional there were 3 down and 2 up between Valletta and Attard, 3 down and 4 up between Valletta and Birkirkara, and 3 in each direction between Valletta and Hamrun. The down journey time from Valletta to Museum was 35 minutes and the up time was 30 minutes. Departures from Valletta were signalled by the guard’s whistle and augmented by the ringing of a hand bell.
On Sundays and festivals there were 20 trains in each direction of which 10 trains ran in each direction from Valletta to Museum and 4 in each direction between Valletta and Attard.
A train usually consisted of five carriages while trains running over the maximal climb before Notabile only had four. After stronger engines were used trains up to 12 carriages became possible. During World War I even longer trains were run using two locomotives. Travelling time inland (that is: uphill) was 35 minutes, downhill in the direction of Valletta 30 minutes. Initially quite a busy timetable was in use with 13 pairs of trains running the whole of the line and additional two or three pairs between Valletta and Attard, Valletta and Birkirkara and Valletta und Ħamrun.
After an air-raid on Malta by the Italian air force in 1940 Mussolini proclaimed to have destroyed the Maltese railway system – nine years after its closure
Even before the railway was closed there was talk of converting the line into a highway. Much of the route was surfaced with Tar Macadam making it still possible to walk most of the route from Valletta to Mtarfa. Roads built on or almost on the line include: Triq Mile End, Triq Kappilan Mifsud, Triq il-Ferrovija, Triq Salvu Psaila, Triq il-Ferrovija l-Qadima, Triq il-Linja.
The Tram had two floors, the lower and the Upper Deck. On the first floor, where the operator [driver] used to be, it had ten reversible wooden seats, where 20 passengers could be seated. The rest, mostly farmers carrying their fresh fruit and vegetables, including live chickens and rabbits to be sold at Valletta market, would stand up. The upper floor (Upper Deck) could accommodate up to 18 sitting passengers. Standing passengers weren’t allowed on the upper deck due to the overhead electric wires. The Tram had no doors or windows, and the Upper Deck had no roof.
The Malta Tramway service was terminated on 15th December 1929.
Buses are the primary method of public transport for the Maltese Islands. A primitive bus service commenced in 1905.
The introduction of the buses affected adversely the Malta Railway. Buses became more popular and the railway very expensive to run. Thus, on 31st March 1931, the Malta Railway performed the last services from Rabat to Valletta.
In 1905 a certain Mr Spiller was granted the permission to import buses from UK to run between Valletta and St. Andrew because Malta was a military and naval base and transport was essential. At first he imported six Thornycroft buses from UK to run between Valletta and St. Andrews.
Later another twenty seven seater single deckers and thirty six seaters Thornycroft double deckers started running between Valletta and St. Julians. These first buses were painted in yellowish green and with a black band. During this period several Maltese acquired lorries’ chassis and converted them into buses and in a short time more different types were seen running from villages to Valletta.
In 1920, the B.M.C. (British Motor Company) imported six Daimlers, one-ton solid tyre lorries, and these were converted into buses. As these were very uncomfortable they were not very popular.
In 1921 a Public Transport Co. was formed. It was called the Cottonera Motor Bus Co. Their president was a certain Mr. William Soles who granted licenses to operate from Cottonera to Valletta. Their first two buses were an American Chevrolet and a Ford V8 topped with wooden bodies made by local carpenters and mechanics, or as they were called later, bus body builders. During this period several carpenters were encouraged by this company to build bus bodies so that this company could increase its fleet rapidly.
In 1929 motor traffic regulations were enforced for the public transport such as dimensions, types, colour, capacity, etc. In 1930 the total number of buses was three hundred eighty five licensed route buses. The owners’ financial position was very critical. This situation reflected the condition, fitness and roadworthiness of the vehicles. Several companies were liquidated and thus every owner had to work on his own initiative. This led to a competition between drivers. They struggled to overload passengers and tried to perform more trips by over speeding to the positive danger of the passengers on board. The drivers and their conductors sometimes even refused to perform or continue a journey when it suited them. These offences, several times, led them to court and heavy penalization. These factors even led to arguments and quarrels between drivers. This affected the income of many owners because some drivers returned home with a pouch full of money and others not even enough for the daily expenses.
In 1931 the Traffic Control Board was formed. This board managed to enforce discipline and schedules and also introduced new routes. So the service was running more efficiently day after day. Owners of route buses became very proud of their buses. They kept their buses in a very good condition, decorated them with trimmings and named them for the village Patron Saint or for queens, operas, battleships, etc. Every route had a different colour. They were kept very clean from the outside and even from the inside. During this period the only foreign organization to run part of the Public Transport in Malta was the B.M.C.
During this time a reorganization of the Public Transport was on the agenda of one of the meetings of the Traffic Control Board. Several meetings were held and proposals were studied. The first proposal was that the number of buses had to be increased. Another proposal was that the Public Transport should either be nationalized or should work in a single company or in organized groups of bus owners. Finally the Board decided that the number of route buses has to be increased to 500 buses and have to work in organized groups of bus owners, according to the regulations drawn by the same board. These decisions led to protests and strikes. Finally the bus owners agreed with the board’s decision and the B.M.C. agreed to amalgamate with the Sliema Bus Company. Later the B.M.C. struggled to get monopoly of all the Sliema Route. They even threatened the government that they were going to quit Malta and take their buses to Cairo unless they solely got the Sliema Route.
This amalgamation between the B.M.C. and the Sliema Motor Bus Co. did not last long because the B.M.C. lost hope of getting a monopoly on the Sliema Route and sold its local interest to Mr. Joseph Gasan, a renowned Maltese businessman. Besides buying all the interest of the B.M.C. in Malta, he managed to buy one by one all the other buses of the Sliema Motor Bus Co. at low prices by using his cunning tactics and thus he obtained monopoly of all the Sliema route. He formed a disciplined management, a centralized garage and a workshop, all under his supervision. He replaced his most uncomfortable buses.
After World War II he bought Ford V8 chassis from the military, imported new forty passengers’ kits of Wayne bodies, as they were called, from Canada and mounted these bodies on the V8 chassis in his own workshop. He obtained more licenses, which totalled to 110. He imported new Thames chassis and all their bodies were built by a certain bus body builder Mr. Joseph Aquilina of Paola. All these Ford Thames carried 36 passengers
In 1955 he started selling his buses to individuals for the sum of Lm3,500 to Lm4,000 each bus according to the condition of the vehicle. When he managed to sell all his buses, he helped the new owners by organizing them in a company and leading them until they start operating.
After the 1971 General Elections there was a reorganization of the Public Transport. For the reorganization a Board was formed with the administrative secretary as president. A study was finalized and the decision was that all the route buses were to amalgamate in one group for the reason that every owner should get the same income from his bus.
The board called meetings with the delegates of the General Transport Union and informed them of this discussion. The General Transport Union called a general meeting and informed the owners that the intention of the government is to amalgamate all the routes in one group. Following these news the operators of the best routes objected to this discussion and protests and strikes were organized but these protests led to nothing. Later in 1973 a proposal was made by the G.T.U. to the board stating that for a period of one year all the route buses are to amalgamate in three groups and after a year buses are to amalgamate in one group.
The intent of this proposal was that if the service in three groups ran with satisfaction to the authorities, to the Public and to the owners themselves, the government may change his intention and keep the service running in three groups. This proposal was accepted by the board. In about two months all the preparations were made and three groups were formed, each group under the control of a committee. Group A was coloured light Green (Cospicua clour), Group B cloured red (B’Kara colour) and Group C coloured white with a blue stripe (Mellieha colour).
Every committee did its best to introduce an efficient service and the result was very satisfactory. A year passed and nothing was prepared to amalgamate in one group. A duty roster was circulated to every bus owner from the office of the prime minister on a two days on and one day off basis and every owner had to work on his own initiative under the control of this board and the police. This situation led to a competition between bus drivers, everyone struggling to pick up more passengers such that there were instances were a 40 seater bus was loaded with 70 passengers or even more.
This situation brought several bus owners to sell their buses at a very low price. Others kept them garaged with the consequence of paying heavy penalties for not honouring the conditions and obligations as a licensee.
This situation remained so for over three years.
The owners themselves were fed up with this drastic situation and called several general meetings to discuss the position. In one of these meetings it was resolved to restart negotiating with the authorities to amalgamate in one group.
The authorities offered help to commence service as soon as possible and on the 17th November 1977 all the route buses started operating in one group.
A centralized office – Assoccjazzjoni Trasport Pubbliku – ATP was formed under the control of a committee elected by bus owners every two years from a general meeting of the association.
All buses had already been painted painted light green like the ones on Group A in 1975.
The ATP operated 508 buses till 2 July 2011. Besides working on scheduled route transport throughout the island on a rostered basis, these buses also performed direct and night services, school transport and did private trips as and when required.
The original ‘Route Bus Liveries’
The colour coded town and village routes were to last until 1973. These company liveries came into being in the mid 1920’s and were already in use by the time the tram and railway closed one shortly after the other. The Traffic Control Board (TCB) was instituted in 1931. Following the war, the old liveries were again reinstated with the exception of a few which were discontinued. These post war liveries are illustrated in a coloured list from around 1955. The English names for the termini are used in it. Before the war, Castille Place was known as Piazza Regina [Queen’s Square] and Kingsgate as Porta Reale [Royal Gate]. This list is very important in that it shows the Sliema [Gasan overall dark green with white stripe] colours and yet it shows the Gozo [GBOA] post merger grey with red stripe livery.
In Malta this arrangement lasted until the mid 1960’s when first the Mosta and Naxxar [including Gharghur] group was formed by merging the two previous groups. This resulted in the two tone brown livery. Very shortly afterwards the Zebbug [including Qormi] and Siggiewi groups merged resulting into the orange and yellow livery. All this ended in 1973 when only three colours were used for the separate groups. By late 1975 the colour was changed to light green prior to the final merger that happened in 1977. The orange and yellow livery subsequently adopted was in use between late 1995 to mid 2011.
The 2011 restructure – Arriva Malta runs Public Transport
A major restructure of the bus service in Malta took place on 3 July 2011. The network was taken over by Arriva, new low-floor buses were introduced and service and fare structures changed dramatically.
The British based engineering consultancy company Halcrow Group Limited was commisioned to assess the Malta bus system. Released on November 2005, the report criticizing the existing model and arrangement between ADT and ATP, which had produced a very low utilization of buses and a decline of 50% in the number of bus passengers between 1979 and 2009.
Finalized plans were announced in December 2008 for the first bus route restructuring on Malta since 1977. Under EU rules, the right to operate the new network could not be directly transferred to the ATP, although they were free to tender for the contract. This resulted in the end of the state-subsidized owner-operator model, which as of 2009 stood at 508 buses each with an average age of 35 years, and operated by over 400 independent licensees.
The old service operated till Saturday 2 July 2011.
Arriva started operating the new bus service from Sunday 3 July 2011.
118 low floor buses which formed part of the old bus service have been bought by Arriva. There had been 508 buses in the old bus service. One low floor bus was retained by Transport Malta for training, one was scrapped, two were retained by their original owners, eight were bought by government entities and one was transferred to the Malta Red Cross.
Of the remaining old buses, three were kept by their owners for use as vintage buses, 73 were kept by their owners for private use, 127 were transferred to Heritage Malta, 164 were scrapped while seven have been kept by their original owners for legal reasons.
The 78 old buses in Gozo were retained by their owners for unscheduled work.
The new fleet controlled by Arriva consists of 265 buses, including 2 seven-metre buses for the intra-Valletta route, 61 nine-metre buses including 10 hybrid electric buses for park and ride services as well as selected village routes (Mater Dei-Ta’ Qali, Paola-Xgħajra-Paola), 153 twelve metre buses, and 46 articulated buses for airport routes and major routes such as those to Sliema, Malta International Airport and the ferry terminals. The new system increased the number of available bus seats by 6,600 to 20,500, and the number of bus stops in Malta to 850 plus another 120 in Gozo.
As from January 2013 half the buses servicing routes which end in Zurrieq and Qrendi started sporting a new livery promoting the routes.
The livery has the tagline ‘Your 70s’ – the routes covered being 71, 72 and 73, and a side sticker with the main route destinations. Seven out of the 15 buses on these routes are branded.
The last time route buses in Malta were branded was in the 1970s when the buses were coloured according to the route they served. According to Arriva commercial director Fabien Courtellemont this decision was taken to provide Arriva with the optimal mix between branding and flexibility. The branding exercise followed changes Arriva made to the routes following threats by Transport Malta a few weeks earlier. TM had warned it would step in to provide the service if Arriva did not improve service frequency and timings.
Mr Courtellemont said that the plan was for the livery exercise to be extended to other routes and the company hoped to have various routes branded by the beginning of summer 2013. Unfortunately this was another empty promise by Arriva and no other routes were branded.
On Tuesday 27 August 2013 the Transport Ministry and Transport Malta instructed Arriva Malta to take bendy buses off the road pending investigations. The decision was taken at an urgent meeting between officials from the ministry, Transport Malta and Arriva after a third bendy bus burst into flames in Xemxija, the third such case in as many days. Arriva immediately agreed with the decision. The bendy buses were taken off the roads. An independent surveyor was engaged to inspect all the vehicles.
The bendy buses served a third of all the routes.
From 28 August 2013 Coaches of the Unscheduled Bus Service were used to augment the Arriva route buses following the withdrawal of 68 bendy buses from the roads. Arriva covered the costs involved. UBS vehicles had also been used in the weeks after the Arriva service was introduced in July 2011, because of a shortage of buses.
Earlier the GWU had also asked Arriva to withdraw the bendy buses. It later issued a statement welcoming the decision.
The incident that sparked the decision took place in Xemxija roundabout on Tuesday 27 August 2013 at about 12.35 p.m. Thick smoke could be seen coming from the back window of the bus and the engine vents (see photo above). The blaze was contained quickly. The passengers disembarked unharmed. A fire crew from the nearby Fire Station was on the scene.
One bus was destroyed in Marsa early on Sunday morning (25/8/2013) and another was extensively damaged in Mellieha on Sunday night (see photos below). The three incidents were the most serious since the Arriva service was introduced in July 2011, but there were seven other cases where the engine compartments of the buses overheated and caught fire. In those cases the fires were contained.
Transport Malta launched an investigation on Monday 26 August 2013 while Arriva said its buses were safe, although it was carrying out an extraordinary fleet check as an extra precaution. It also said it could not rule out arson.
Arriva Malta informed the public that as of Wednesday, 28th August 2013, certain routes were to be operated by a subcontractor. Buses on these routes did not feature Arriva standard livery and did not sell tickets onboard. The routes involved were: 55/63, 109, 110, 117/118/119/135, 120, 136, 201, 202/203, 204/206/210, 205, 209/213, 226, X1, X2/X3, X4/X5/X7.
Several former route buses which became tour buses after the old service was discontinued in July 2011, returned to service on Wednesday 28 August 2013 to plug the shortage created with the withdrawal of the bendy buses.
Among them were these two buses (photos below) – each at least 50 years old – operating routes 118 and 135. One of the old buses bears the colours of the old Valletta-Zabbar route, while the other is in the orange livery of the buses before the Arriva service was introduced and of the old Valletta-Zebbug-Siggiewi route.
A number of more recent Plaxton route buses (photo below), also converted to coaches, returned to the routes.
68 bendy buses were withdrawn from service pending an investigation into a spate of fires. Buses of the Unscheduled Bus Service were chartered as replacements with Arriva bearing the costs. A report by Transport Malta published in January 2014 showed the fires were caused by diesel spillage over hot areas of the engine compartment, and cooling problems. Bendy buses selected at random had the same problems.
On 19 February 2014 Transport Malta sold the former Arriva Bendy Buses for €601,200 (excluding VAT). They were bought to be exported to Sudan. The buses were sold to a Maltese company – JDG Holdings Ltd of San Gwann. A call for the sale of the buses closed on Friday 14 February 2014, by which time three offers were received. However by May 2014 JDG Holdings was finding it impossible to export the buses to Sudan. Since the buses could not be returned to the Maltese roads, the buses were sent to a scrapyard for demolition after salvaging their mechanical parts. Since the bendy buses were scrapped JDG Holdings Ltd paid €460,000 (excluding VAT).
Transport Malta had acquired the buses from Arriva Malta on 3 January 2014 free of charge. The funds from their sale were used by Malta Public Transport Services. The 80 Mercedes buses, originally used in London, had been parked at Horns Works Ditch in Floriana since August 2013, when they were pulled off Malta’s roads after a series of fires. Experts had concluded that the fires were caused by the conditions the buses were subjected to on Malta’s roads, as well as an element of poor maintenance. In offering the buses for sale, Transport Malta had laid down that they cannot be returned to Malta’s roads, because of the congestion they caused.
On Saturday 27 October 2013 Bus service operator Arriva asked ticket retailers to return all their stock to the company by Thursday 31 October 2013. This move fuelled reports about Arriva’s plans to leave Malta. The company was deadlocked in talks with the government on changes to the routes and the return of bendy buses. The company made huge losses over the two years since its operation in July 2011 and disagreed with the subsidy that was offered by the government for the adjustment of the routes.
Speculation in October 2013 had been growing that Arriva Malta, a subsidiary of German transport giant Deutsche Bahn, might wind down its operation in Malta as a result of the financial losses it had sustained since the start of the service in July 2011.
On. 1 November 2013 Arriva Malta stated that the company was loosing €400,000 each week confirming reports that it was looking at ending 2013 with losses in excess of € 20 million..
On Tuesday 17 December 2013 Transport Minister Joe Mizzi said that Government talks with bus operator Arriva had been exhausted and the outcome had been referred to legal and financial experts. He did not give details when asked if loss-making Arriva would stay on, saying that what was important for the government was that Malta had a serious, efficient bus service which operated punctually on new routes. He said the reform would take some time since it entailed some six months for new buses to be ordered and delivered. Asked by Opposition spokesman Toni Bezzina for a job guarantee for the Arriva workers, on whom 1,200 families depended, Mr Mizzi said an efficient bus service needed more vehicles, and that meant more workers were needed. The Sunday Times of Malta had reported on 15 December 2013 that Paramount Coaches, one of the leading private bus and coach operators in Malta, was interested in taking over the bus service should the long drawn-out negotiations between government and Arriva fail.
On Sunday 22 December 2013 it was confirmed that transport operator Arriva will be leaving Malta by the first quarter of 2014 under a transition agreement finalised between the company and transport authorities. Transport Malta and Arriva management negotiated the terms of the deal through which the Transport Authority would take over the company and a portion of its substantial debts in a nominal sale.
At a press conference on Monday 23 December 2013 Transport Minister Joe Mizzi said that Arriva will hand over operations to Transport Malta on 1 January 2014. He said that a government company would take over the bus service on 1 January 2014 using the Arriva buses. A team from Transport Malta and Arriva would continue running the service for a transitional period. The minister also said that there would be no return to the old buses. “We want to move forward, not backwards,” Transport Malta chairman James Piscopo said. After 1 January 2014 the Transport Authority is expected to issue a call for expression of interest to re-award the licence. This averted the option of the company filing for liquidation – a messy prospect for both Arriva and the government.
The Transport Authority made it clear that the new bus operator would be selected on the basis of the new route network which Transport Malta intends to roll out.
On 1 January 2014 Transport Malta took over Arriva’s buses and IT system and all workers were retained. The buses kept the same livery they had under Arriva. The government company was called Malta Public Transport Services Limited. The government took on €3 million of Arriva’s debt. The amount was substantially lower than the €68 million debt accumulated by Arriva Malta since 2011. Most of Arriva’s debts was absorbed by its parent and sister companies after insistence by Transport Malta. The debt absorbed by the state included money owed to creditors on operational matters such as fuel purchases. Arriva also had outstanding dues with Transport Malta.
What was meant to be a 10-year agreement with Arriva was signed in November 2010 and the service was launched with celebratory fireworks in July 2011, but Arriva quickly ran into problems with a walk-out by drivers and complaints by users over the route network and lack of punctuality. The routes were changed several times but problems – and losses – continued to mount for Arriva and the beginning of the end started in the summer 2013 when 68 bendy buses were withdrawn after fires on three of them.
Arriva had been losing €1m per month and when talks started in Septrmber 2013, Arriva had offered to sell for a price – €30m plus the debts – which the government rejected. The company was unable to invest in order to meet the requirements of a new routes network and a mutual decision was taken for it to leave.
The difference in fares charged between Maltese and foreigners was brought to an end on 6 January 2014.
In 2013, the last full year of Arriva’s public transport operation, 39,438,822 commuters made use of public transport. On a monthly basis, an average of 3,286,569 commuters made use of the public transport services.
As expected, transport usage peaked during the summer months of July and August 2013, with commuters totalling 3,912,389 and 3,856,756 respectively. While Arriva offered various ticket fee options, the 90-day ticket turned to be the least popular, with just 6,646 tickets sold in Malta and none in Gozo.
A total of 11,576,449 tickets were sold across Malta and Gozo: the majority, 11,240,665 were sold in Malta while the rest, 335,784, were sold in Gozo.
2,545 of the 90-day tickets were sold to students whereas students in Gozo opted for the 30-day ticket. A separate 19,806 students in Malta purchased the 30-day ticket.
The most popular was one the one-day ticket, with 9,086,922 tickets sold throughout 2013. The tickets include purchases made by residents and non-residents.
1,781,063 commuters purchased the 2-hour ticket while the 7-day ticket was bought by 666,767 public transport users.
The figures exclude ticket sales of night services and the park and ride.
In 2013 there were 1,925 bus stops across the Maltese and Gozitan roads with 521 bus shelters and a public transport servicing 99 routes.
Arriva’s short history in photos
2011 – 2014
April 2011 – Brand new Arriva buses arrive from China. They are a quality leap from the old buses, low floor, air conditioned and with euro V engines.
July 2011 – The launch of the service started with fireworks – a large number of workers refused to work because of their roster conditions and were promptly sacked.
24 October 2012 – One of the saddest episodes – a number of passengers were injured when a bus crashed into Portes des Bombes.
The accident happened at about 3 p.m. when a bus heading out of Floriana crashed into the side of Portes des Bombes. It tore off part of its side and dislodged stones off the gate. Two other buses then crashed into each other, with one of them then crashing into a centre strip. Damage included a smashed windscreen.
In a statement the police listed the injured and their condition. The drivers were a 26-year old man from Qormi, a 44-year-old man from Hamrun and a 32-year-old man from Congo, resident in Sta Venera.
The police said a total of 27 persons were given medical assistance, 16 in hospital and 14 at Floriana health centre. The police gave the following details of those taken to hospital:
A woman, 52 of Attard, seriously injured;
A woman, 66 of Zebbug, seriously injured;
A boy, 16 of Qormi, seriously injured;
A Somali boy, 16 resident in Sta Venera, slightly injured;
Woman, 32 of Qormi, slightly injured;
Man, 29 of Hamrun, slightly injured;
Woman, 63 of Marsa, slightly injured;
Girl, 17 of Kirkop, seriously injured;
Boy 16, of Qormi, slightly injured;
Woman 54, of Qormi, slightly injured;
Woman, 61 of Qormi, slightly injured;
Woman, 69 of Hamrun, seriously injured;
Boy, 13 of Zebbug, seriously injured;
Man, 32 of Congo, slightly injured;
Woman, 64 of Qormi, slightly injured;
Italian boy 17, seriously injured;
None of the injuries were life-threatening.
Disaster – the first of three fires on bendy buses in August 2013 sparked the beginning of the end for the bus service. 56 bendy buses were impounded. Arriva handed over operations to Transport Malta on 1 January 2014.
Malta Public Transport
From 1 January 2014 a Government company called Malta Public Transport Services Limited started operating the Public Transport instead of Arriva. MPT kept the same buses, routes and livery used by Arriva Malta. Malta Public Transport operated the Bus Service daily between 5:30 and 23:00hrs.The difference in fares charged between Maltese and foreigners was brought to an end on 6 January 2014. MPT started handing over the Bus Services in Malta and Gozo to the new operator on 7 January 2015. Autobuses Urbanos de Leon started operating the Bus Service on 8 January 2015.
In 2014 MPT operated a total of 80 different routes that linked the different localities in Malta to either major hubs such as Valletta, Mater Dei Hospital and the Airport or to other destinations. Meanwhile 15 different routes were operated in Gozo by MPT in 2014 primarily from the central hub of Victoria Bus Station to various localities on the island. Generally, one or two digit routes (Eg. 1, 2, 3, … 12… 34… 94) denoted mainline routes that operated to and from Valletta from various localities. Express routes were designated with an “X”. These routes had limited stops and operated to and from the Airport from different localities. Three digit routes linked different localities together. In most cases these routes did not serve Valletta, but served other interchanges such as University and Mater Dei Hospital.
On Monday 20 January 2014 at 3pm a fierce fire destroyed a route bus in Burmarrad. No one was injured in the incident. The bus was not carrying any passengers at the time. The flames spread quickly, peeling off paint with the heat, shattering windows and turning the seats into cinders.
Malta Transport said that when the driver noticed something had happened, he parked the bus on the side of the road in line with practised safety norms. The bus was a refurbished Volvo Sarakakis, which was in use before the introduction of Arriva. Other buses of this type were taken off the road for inspections and preventive checks carried out overnight.
Malta Public Transport said, “It is very embarrassing for us to have to face a situation like this in the third week since we took over the service. At this stage we are doing everything necessary to understand exactly why this happened and what must be done to prevent similar incidents.”
Also on 20 January 2014 in the morning passengers quickly disembarked from another bus after smoke was seen in Floriana. No one was injured and the bus was not damaged. The incident happened near Sarria Church.
Three companies submitted bids to operate the bus service by the closing of the call for expressions of interest on 7 April 2014. Another submission was received after the deadline closed at noon. The three bidders were the Spanish transport group Autobuses Urbanos de León, the Gozo First and the Island Buses Malta. Transport Minister Joe Mizzi said the bids would be evaluated with a view to selecting a serious company which could provide a sustainable, dependable, efficient bus service which would meet the people’s expectations. The minister also said in parliament that Malta Transport in the first three months of 2014 had a revenue of €4,295,492 of which €4,285,170 came from bus ticket sales.
On Friday 16th May 2014 eleven new buses arrived in Malta. They were planned to form part of a complement of 45 new buses leased by Malta Public Transport for one year to increase capacity, particularly in summer, and improve the overall experience for customers from a safety, comfort and accessibility point of view. The buses that arrived on Friday 16 May 2014 in the morning were five 12-metre Volvos and six nine-metre Optare Solo buses.
All were brand new, low-floor and air-conditioned, with Euro 5 standard engines. The Volvos were capable of carrying up to 90 passengers whilst the Optare carried 45 passengers. They were fitted with the necessary equipment for the provision of public transport services, including passenger information, ticketing machines, GPS-tracking systems, and CCTV cameras. They were put into service in the first week of June 2014.
On 30 June 2014 the Malta Public Transport introduced new bus tickets. The new tickets, which bus commuters could buy in advance of traveling, featured a set of scratch-off panels that customers used to validate their ticket themselves allowing commuters to board buses quicker and with greater ease. The new scratch-off tickets were available in two formats: 1-Day Tickets and 7-Day Tickets and were available at regular bus fares for adults, children, holders of Kartanzjan or the E60+ card as well as holders of the Blue Badge Card.
The Prime Minister, Dr Joseph Muscat, in November 2014 said that the government lost some €30 million throughout 2014 from the running of the bus service.
Autobuses Urbanos de León
On Wednesday 29 July 2014 Transport Minister Joe Mizzi said that talks had begun with the Spanish transport group Autobuses Urbanos de León being the preferred bidder.
The Spanish offer was said to have been €20 million cheaper than the offer made by Island Malta Buses Ltd, which requested an annual subsidy of some €42 million. Island Malta Buses Ltd is a consortium formed by eight private and bus coach operators.
In April 2014, three companies had submitted their bids to operate Malta’s public transport service and included Gozo First Travel, which was only interested to operate the service in Gozo.
It remained unknown how much government was paying for the temporary service being provided before the new operator was selected. The public transport service was nationalised in the beginning of 2014 after Arriva transferred its assets to government. From information tabled in parliament, it was revealed that in the first two months, Malta Public Transport Services Ltd made €7,272,138 in operational expenses. When the national public transport company took over the Arriva Malta operations for a nominal €1, Malta Public Transport Services Ltd absorbed €7.9 million in total debts.
The deal for the takeover of the bus service by Spanish company Autobuses de Leon was wrapped up in the early hours of Saturday 20 December 2014.
The new operator, Autobuses de Leon (Alesa), agreed to pay €8 million for the purchase of Malta Public Transport Services, the state company that bought out Arriva for a nominal fee of €1 at the start of 2014. In January 2015 the government said that Autobuses de Leon (Alesa) will invest €40 million to operate the service, covering an additional three million kilometres each year. The subsidy for 2015 was agreed to be €23 million but was agreed to increase in 2016 once the new operator implemented the full route network. The company is expected to bring over 142 new buses by summer 2015 but will initially hire a number of buses to run the service.
The company said it will be adding 3,000 seats into the network, creating a 20% increase in capacity. It will also be recruiting additional drivers. Director Felipe Cosmen said Alesa’s bid for the contract was focused on improving customers’ experience and included a new fleet, new IT systems and improvements at terminals.
Autobuses Urbanos de Leon started operating the Public Transport on the Maltese Islands on 8 January 2015. It was a soft start with total handover from MPT planned to be spanned over a period of months.
When the Service will be totally taken over by Autobuses Urbanos de Leon all buses will sport a light green and white livery making this the fourth colour change in four decades.
The new colours will eventually replace the technicolour fleet that has characterised the public transport service throughout 2014 since the departure of Anglo-German company Arriva.
Although the majority of the fleet in 2014 was aquamarine, the colour of Arriva, a number of route buses supplied by private operators came in various colours, shapes and sizes.
The light green colour is a flashback to the green colour that characterized the bus service between 1973 and 1995 when it was replaced with yellow and orange.
But veteran commenters from Cottonera area would also recall that light green was the colour for the buses running to their locality in the pre 1973 era.
Until 1973 the bus service was a rainbow of colours that had been in place since the 1930s, when route buses were colour coded according to locality. It was in 1973 adopted for the first time a uniform colour, green, which was replaced in 1995 when the service was revamped.
The yellow and orange of the mid 1990s eventually made way for Arriva’s aquamarine in 2011 when it started operating it’s short lived bus service till January 2014.
Autobuses de Leon on Thursday 8 January 2015 officially took over the bus service in Malta retaining the name Malta Public Transport. Addressing a news conference, chairman Felipe Cosmen said the changes agreed upon would be implemented gradually over 2015. One of the major changes would be in the payment system with the introduction of a card similar to the Oyster Card in use in the UK. This system would be introduced in July 2015. The idea was to encourage people not to buy their tickets on the bus to improve efficiency and provide a faster service. The cost of trips would work out to be substantially cheaper for card holders.
Once the Unscheduled Bus Service contract was over at the end of January 2015, the company would temporarily rent 40 buses but would get 142 new Euro VI two-door 9.6 metre buses by the end of the first quarter. The company would be getting a subsidy of €23 million this year, which would go up to €29 million in 2016.
James Piscopo, from Transport Malta, said that according to the contract there would not be automatic increases in fares to cover inflation. Inflation could be covered by an increase in fares, an increase in subsidy, or both, at the discretion of the authorities. He said that Arriva had wanted €45 million for the route network that would eventually be in place, a Maltese company had asked for €40 million and the Spaniards were providing the service for €29 million.
The company would have a total of 360 buses on the ground, about 100 more than Arriva had.
On 5 February 2015 ALSA told journalists that the 142 new buses to be brought over to Malta by Autobuses de Leon had been ordered from Otocar of Turkey. The first few Turkish buses, manufactured in Turkey, were expected to be delivered by July 2015. All 142 will be delivered by October 2015.
Fleet manager Juan Urgel said the Malta buses were chosen for their maneuverability, accessibility and comfort. They are high standard European buses. The buses, he said, have double doors, Cummins Euro 6 engines and air conditioning that will keep appropriate temperatures. He explained that the Turkish buses were chosen over two other brands after a number of factors were taken into account, including the narrow Maltese roads, the climate and our proximity to the sea. Julio Tironi, Director Transport Division, explained that Otocar and Mercedes buses come with the same price tag, only Otocar buses are more suited for Malta.
ALSA Chairman Felipe Cosmen said the King Long huses purchased by Arriva in 2011 will be kept in the fleet for several years but the company will have to implement proper maintenance practices. Mr Cosmen said the buses are not inferior and will work well if properly serviced. The older King Long buses will be taken off the roads by 2018.
The company has 12m, 11m, 9.5m and 9m buses. These are used according to the necessity and limitations of the routes.
On 1 July 2015 the Malta Public Transport launched the Tallinja card.
The tallinja card is a plastic intelligent card which can hold pay as you go credit. The tallinja card may be used to travel on any one of the Malta Public Transport buses in both Malta and Gozo as of July 2015. Credit works in a similar way to mobile phone credit. Every time a passenger uses the card to travel the cost of the journey is deducted. If there is no credit on the card it cannot be used for any further journeys until it is “Topped Up”.
The tallinja card displays the holder’s name and surname for identification purposes. All the cards except for the Child card also displays the photo of the holder. The tallinja card is personalised because customers can benefit from discounted fares when using their card. This depends on the category as there are different fares for Children, Students Adults, Kartanzjan / 60+ Maltese Identity Card holders, Special ID Card holders issued by Kummissjoni Nazzjonali Persuni b’Dizabilita’ (KNPD) and Gozo Residents.
Five different colour-coded cards are available:
- Child (Yellow) – For customers between 4 and 10 years
- Students (Red) – For customers between 11 and 16 years and for customers between 17 and 59 who are attending a full time course with a recognised educational institution for a minimum of 3 months
- Adult (Green) – For customers between 17 and 59 years
- Concession (Blue) – For Kartanzjan holders / 60+ Maltese Identity Card holders AND for Special ID Card holders issued in their name by KNPD. Only Residents of the Maltese islands that are eligible for the Kartanzjan or the Special ID Card are eligible for this card.
- Gozo Residents (Purple) – For customers whose residential address on their Maltese Identity Card is in Gozo
On Thursady 2 July 2015 the Malta Public Transport welcomed the arrival of the first consignment of new buses to Malta, even while the public’s attention was focused on the problems which the introduction of new bus cards created.
Forty new buses, painted in MPT colours, arrived from Turkey and were disembarked at Laboratory Wharf. Another 102 will arrive in batches throughout summer.
The buses were built by Turkish company Otokar. They are 9.6 meters long and slightly narrower than the majority of the existing fleet. These buses are low floor, providing easy access for wheelchair and pushchairs. They have two doors, intended to allow people to board and alight efficiently therefore reducing boarding time. The buses have a capacity of 60 passengers. They are equipped with Euro 6 engines,the very latest standards for environmentally friendly public transport.
Transport in 1913
The Malta Railway
The Malta Buses in Colour
The Last Yellow Buses
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The Malta Railway Plus
Malta Public Transport Ltd