Today is the first anniversary of the “new” public transport system launched with so much pomp and ceremony by Transport Minister Austin Gatt promising Malta the most modern fleet of public buses in the world; serving people much better and linking communities for the first time. He said thousands of people would start leaving their private cars behind and start taking public buses easing traffic jams and reducing pollution and road rage.
A year after Arriva took on the public transport system the serious shortcomings in the service have nothing to do with teething problems.
As fewer people complain publicly about the poor service there might be the illusion that the service has improved and that people have less to complain about. But people have simply given up on the service as most of their complaints have not been addressed adequately. They have either resigned themselves and use an inefficient bus service or use their private car to get to their destinations.
Many people are still not getting the service they were used to in the old system. For these people the service has deteriorated. Taking two hours or more to get to where you want to go is not an incentive to use public buses. Having to walk for a long time to find a bus stop is certainly not a way to make people use the service more frequently, especially if they happen to be elderly. Second hand buses rejected by others now dominate our roads and frequently block our roads and streets.
Things could have been done differently. The old system needed improving. It should have been improved but the way Minister Austin Gatt (totally supported by Prime Minister Laurence Gonzi) did it was not the way. What worked in the old system should have been kept and what did not work should have been changed in ways that make sense.
When a vote of no confidence in Minister Gatt was presented in parliament, Prime Minister Gonzi turned it in to a vote of confidence in the government as he said the whole cabinet was responsible for the public transport reform.
Prior to the public transport reform, Minister Austin Gatt had promised that people will receive a text message people with the timings of the bus schedule.
In November 2009 he said that the public transport system in Malta would be the same as that in England, America, France and Germany.
And the year after, on 21 November 2010, the Minister announced that the new public service would have a "maximum waiting time". “This to ensure that the public is being better served”, he affirmed.
The bendy buses are more or less of the same age as the buses that were bought a few years ago with a government subsidy of €52 million. So Minister Gatt’s decision to allow these bendy buses into Malta means that buses bought with tax payers’ money and owners’ money are being replaced with buses of the same age. Their state is considered bad and most of them are far worse mechanically than most of the local buses that were used before July 2011 when the new transport system came in.
Labour Party spokesperson on Public Transport Joe Sammut in a press conference slammed Transport Malta for not sticking to what it promised for the public transport reform. He said that passengers are still suffering delays and timetables were not adhered to.
"Although there has been improvement, the majority of the promises suggested in the reform are still unkept," Sammut said.
He added that even though it was said that there would be detailed information on the bus timetable sent by SMS, nothing of the sort has taken place.
Furthermore, although subsidies were meant to decrease, they actually had not when one considered the €2 million which had to be given to Arriva when the route network was revamped again late last year.
Dr Sammut acknowledged there were some positives in the new service, including the night service and the service in Gozo. Drivers were also better trained and smarter, he said.
In a statement to the media, Arriva said that 99% of its buses are equipped with air conditioning units and that 187 vehicles of the fleet (made up of 285 busses) used to run the daily routes are approximately one year old.
Arriva's management added that the transport company completes 74,000 km per day in Malta and Gozo which is equivalent to 26 million kilometers per year. This offers the most extensive network with many travel options.
"In spite of road works, traffic congestions and badly parked private vehicles Arriva completes 92% of all its journeys on time. Irrespective of this the company and its 1100 employees work hard every day to improve operational performance," the management said.
Following the changes of the 27th of May 2012 including 19 new routes and 42 revised routes, it has satisfied most of the requests received during the past months. The changes have been implemented following a great deal of consultation with local authorities as well as comments recieved through the Arriva’s Customer Care Centre and our regulating authority Transport Malta.
Arriva is currently operating 26 routes to Mater Dei Hospital and 48 routes from towns and villages to Valletta. Other services include the Gozo network, frequent airport routes, links to Cirkewwa ferry, night service and popular beach destinations.
Arriva takes this opportunity to remind the general public about its Customer Care Centre offering its services every day on 21222000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.