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Higher bus fares for tourists

New bus service starts on July 3

The notorious bus fumes should hopefully become a thing of the past.

The notorious bus fumes should hopefully become a thing of the past.

Tourists can expect to pay higher bus fares than Maltese identity card holders when the new bus service is rolled out in July as part of the transport reform that will cost taxpayers €6.2 million annually in subsidies.

The revamped bus service, which will see the yellow buses make way for a reduced fleet of modern aquamarine-coloured buses, comes with a new tariff structure.

The price of a day ticket will be €1.50 and that for a seven-day ticket €6.50. A short two-hour ticket, which will probably cater for one-way trips, costs €1.30.

Tourists and passengers who do not have Maltese ID cards will pay higher fares with a day ticket costing them €2.60 and a seven-day pass €12.

Giving details of the contract that is to be signed with British transport company Arriva and Tumas Group later this month, Transport Minister Austin Gatt defended the higher charge for foreigners, insisting this was similar in principle to the Gozo Channel fare structure – where Maltese residents using the ferry service pay a higher fee than Gozitans.

Bus fares will be locked for three years and subsequently increase according to the cost-of-living adjustment.

The subsidy will be fixed for the duration of the 10-year contract and is almost €3 million lower than the subsidy the government is negotiating with current bus owners for 2009.

The reform also includes a payment structure for the Blata l-Bajda park and ride service. Parking and transport to and from Valletta between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. will incur a charge of €2.50 for the driver and an additional one euro for every passenger. The price for the driver goes up to €4 after 7 p.m.

Commuters can, however, purchase a seven-day ticket at a cost of €10 that would cater for the driver and one passenger. Students, children and the elderly will pay subsidised rates. Two new park and ride pay-services will be introduced at Marsa and St Andrew’s.

The fleet will include 264 buses, of which 185 will be new and 79 refurbished. All will have less-polluting Euro V engines and will be air-conditioned.

For the first time on Maltese roads, a fleet of 46 flexi-buses that can carry more than 100 passengers will be deployed on selected heavily-used routes such as Ċirkewwa.

The service will operate daily between 5.30 a.m. and 11 p.m. and initially there will be an all-night service to and from St Julian’s on 14 routes that may increase to other areas during the summer months.

Dr Gatt explained that the public transport service had experienced a constant and dramatic decline in passengers over the years. While buses carried 59.2 million passengers in 1979, they only carried 30.2 million 30 years later.

At the same time, according to a transport survey carried out this year, 75 per cent of commuters used their private car as a means of transport and only 15 per cent travelled by bus.

Evidently happy with the outcome of negotiations with Arriva, Dr Gatt said the next big challenge was to convince people to use public transport instead of their car.

“When we embarked on this reform many told us it was impossible to achieve.

“Not even Dom Mintoff had managed, we were told. However, we worked hard and we succeeded, even if it came at a cost when we agreed on a financial package with bus drivers.

“Now, the next big challenge is to change the car culture of this country,” Dr Gatt said.

Arriva was committed to increasing patronage of the service and was increasing the seat capacity to 20,500, despite operating fewer buses, he added.

The new service will include electronic displays on buses and bus stops, information on routes at every stop, the creation of three terminuses – in Victoria, Buġibba and Valletta – and a number of new interchange stops along the routes.

The company will employ 920 people, of which 780 are drivers.

Current bus drivers have a six-week period after the signing of the contract during which they have to decide whether to take up a share option of 10 per cent in the consortium.

The reformed service will be rolled out on July 3 so as not to disrupt the school transport system.

Bus reform in numbers

59.2 million: Passengers carried by buses in 1979

30.2 million: Passengers carried by buses in 2009

€9 million: Subsidy claimed by current bus owners for 2009

€6.2 million: Total annual subsidy government will pay Arriva

€4.8 million: Annual subsidy government will pay for the Malta routes

€1.4 million: Annual subsidy government will pay for the Gozo routes

20,500: Arriva’s projected number of bus seats

13,900: Current number of bus seats

920: Employees that Arriva is expected to take on

780: Drivers who will form part of Arriva’s complement

508: Buses currently in service

264: Buses in Arriva’s fleet

10: Number of years for which the contract is applicable

€5: Park and ride fee for a driver and one passenger after 7 p.m.

€3.50: Park and ride fee for a driver and one passenger before 7 p.m.

€3.49: Current cost of a one-day ticket

€2.60: Arriva’s one-day ticket fare for non-Maltese ID card holders

€1.50: Arriva’s one-day ticket fare for Maltese ID card holders

€1.30: Arriva’s two-hour ticket fare

€0.47: Current single trip fare

Full details of reform presentation can be accessed on timesofmalta.com

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