Millions of words have been written about the Arriva bus service in Malta. So I will not delve further into the issues concerning the ill-conceived bus routes, the shambolic big-bang introduction of the service, insufficient buses, excessive waiting and journey times, the unsuitability of bendy buses to Maltese roads, the delays caused by not having a proper fare payment system, the numerous road accidents or the absence of digital arrival information on bus stops.
A number of these issues will, I am sure, in time be sorted out, although it appears that this will only happen at a further cost to the taxpayer.
But the question remains. Is it going to be all worthwhile? Is this new transport system going to make getting around easier, faster and more convenient? Are many Maltese going to give up using their cars? I happen to think that the answer to these questions is no. And there is one principal reason for this. Government simply tackled the wrong problem. It seems to have thought that people were not using public transport because many buses were uncomfortable, drivers were rude and routes were not the appropriate ones.
We now seem to have re-introduced most of the old routes, so that is one issue out of the way. Regarding bus comfort and driver politeness, I am not sure that that these factors were keeping people away from buses. Riding the Underground or taking buses in London cannot be described as comfortable, but people certainly make heavy use of these services.
What Government did not do, was to formulate a national mobility strategy that tries to understand people’s mobility requirements and how best they can be met. A proper strategy must examine what it is that people look for when contemplating making a journey.
Understanding people’s requirements and concerns will lead to a holistic transportation system that goes beyond buses and comes up with creative, innovative solutions that solve the current mobility problems that are only getting worse with time.