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Buses to go through tunnel

Council ‘extremely disappointed’ over another 62 lost parking spaces

The parking spaces on the left – in front of Hotel Fortina down to the Ferries in Sliema – will be lost to make way for a bus lane.

The parking spaces on the left – in front of Hotel Fortina down to the Ferries in Sliema – will be lost to make way for a bus lane.

The pedestrianisation of Bisazza Street, on which an agreement was reached yesterday, will entail adding more vehicles and drivers to the new bus route while robbing Sliema of another 62 parking spaces.

Transport Malta and Arriva, the public transport operator, yesterday agreed that buses will be re-routed through Qui-Si-Sana and the Tigné tunnel instead of passing through Bisazza Street, which has now become officially closed to traffic. But Arriva will need to buy three more buses and employ another 10 drivers, and the road between the tunnel and the ­Ferries will have a new bus lane to compensate for the extra journey time, removing all available ­parking spaces on the seaward side.

Discussions on the amount of compensation the government has to pay Arriva for breach of contract and for changing the pre-agreed routes have been postponed and will start after the new bus service begins on July 3.

The situation which led to these decisions being taken had arisen after lack of coordination between the resources and transport ministries over whether buses should be allowed to pass through Bisazza Street.

Although satisfied that buses will not be passing through the newly pedestrianised street, the Sliema local council said it was “extremely disappointed” to see another 62 parking spaces lost, over and above the 40 lost in Bisazza Street and the 90 on the Qui-Si-Sana side.

Sliema Deputy Mayor Cyrus Engerer said when contactedthat removing more parking spaces from Sliema was “unacceptable”, “ridiculous” and ­“disappointing”. He also said he was disappointed that the council had not been consulted on the matter.

The decision to pedestrianise the popular shopping thoroughfare was taken on May 19, long after Arriva drew up the new bus routes, which included Bisazza Street. Journey and operating times had been set but these too will have to change.

The agreement reached between the operator and Transport Malta is on a number of temporary and permanent measures which will be taken “to implement as quickly as possible the government’s decision not to allow buses to drive through Bisazza Street”.

In a long statement, the Transport Ministry said the significance of the re-routing “should not be underestimated”.

It said that in a day, buses operating on the eight affected routes will have to drive an extra 686 kilometres, equivalent to the distance between Malta and Rome and an extra 16,000 kilometres in a month. This would obviously have an impact on the operation times of each route and each bus service.

In replies to questions sent by The Times, the Transport Ministry defended the decision to remove parking places, saying that although the lost spaces will not be replaced, people can use the Midi car park or the five-minute express service to the new park-and-ride facility in Pembroke “which will add parking capacity by far more than the present reductions”.

Arriva also agreed to temporarily put into service an additional 17 non-air conditioned buses of the 28 Euro V low-floor buses that form part of the present system but have yet to be refurbished and transferred to Arriva by the end of the year. These buses will also lack the bi-lingual signage on the rest of the fleet as per the contractual obligations.

In the meantime, Arriva has agreed to purchase an extra three buses to add to its fleet and recruit an additional 10 bus drivers as additional resources needed to operate the Sliema.

The ministry said Transport Malta and Arriva agreed on “rapid coordination” to solve problems that arise because of this change.

It also warned that passengers may initially experience delays in the service from advertised schedules even in routes unconnected with Sliema or Bisazza Street.

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