A brief history of the public transport in Malta
Up to the mid 1800s the only means of human transport was the horse, cart or kaless. 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.
The timetable was to be as follows:
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.
In 1856 Paul Galea and Notary Manuel Catania set up a company to organise Omnibus trips. The company offered £1,500 worth of shares to the public which offer was exhausted by September 1856.
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. They were painted in olive on black frames. None of them are preserved.
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.
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
This service was inaugurated on February 23, 1904 by the Malta Tramways Limited. Trams linked Valletta with the Three Cities, Birkirkara and Zebbug.
The Tram had two floors, the lower and the Upper Deck. On the first floor, were the operator [driver] used to be, it had 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 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.
In 1995 the buses were painted yellow with an orange stripe.
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
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.
For a comprehensive detailed information on Maltese Buses visit http://maltabuses.piwigo.com/
Transport in 1913
The Malta Railway
The Malta Buses in Colour
The Last Yellow Buses
The Malta Buses Slide Show
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copyright of http://maltabuses.piwigo.com/
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Copyright of photos rests with:
The Malta Railway Plus
Malta Public Transport Ltd