Sun rises on new era
Arriva’s aquamarine coloured buses swarmed throughout the island yesterday as the new operator opened another chapter in Malta’s public transport history.
As had been predicted, the first day was not without hitches as delays were caused by problems at the Floriana terminus, some destination signs on buses did not work and some buses developed faults to their onboard ticketing machines, not to mention the fact that some protesting drivers did not turn up for work.
The faulty onboard ticketing machines led to confusion among passengers as to whether the service yesterday was free for the day. Due to the faults, passengers were allowed onboard without paying to ensure that routes were not disrupted further.
Arriva director Piers Marlow said the bus termini in Gozo, Marsa and Ċirkewwa worked smoothly. However, there were problems with the dispatching of buses from the Floriana terminus situated at the park-and-ride. This was mainly the result of confusion that spilt over from the bus driver protest that took place on Saturday afternoon, he said.
Drivers who attended the protest had left their buses in Floriana even if they were meant to be taken to the Marsa terminus. Apart from that, yesterday morning, about 30 drivers did not turn up for work. This meant that Arriva personnel had to work round the clock, into the early hours of yesterday morning, to ensure buses and drivers were in place for Arriva’s first day of operation.
Mr Marlow explained that, as a result of this, several routes were affected. The worst affected – by drivers not turning up –where the routes that used articulated, or bendy, buses because there was a need for specialised training. This might have explained why one of the bendy-buses got stuck near Mater Dei Hospital.
He said some new drivers turned up unexpectedly but needed training and did not make up for those who did not report to work.
He pointed out that the vast majority of drivers and staff did turn up. In fact, at 5 a.m. yesterday, workers in Arriva uniforms trickled into the Floriana terminus to start operating the new service. Workers inspected the vehicles before they set off to pick up their very first passengers.
At the Valletta bus station, many people praised the system as “efficient, clean and comfortable” and pointed out the air-conditioning system as a big plus. Others praised the “civilised” and helpful nature of the drivers.
Some complained that they had to wait for their bus more than expected with a group of teenage friends, heading to the beach, explaining they had been waiting for a bus to Mellieħa for over an hour in the sun.
Doris and Vince Borg, a retired couple from Valletta, said they caught a bus and found the service very efficient. They were waiting for the bus to Rabat as they enjoyed going to Mass in different villages on Sundays.
Italians Gianluca Sicali and Maria Grazia Strano, who have been living in Malta for three years, were disappointed to find they had to pay for the service after hearing rumours that it was free for the day. They, however, praised the new buses as efficient and “another world” compared to the old ones. As they ran to catch the bus, the doors closed in front of them and the bus driver signalled from inside that he could not reopen them.
Something similar happened to a woman in Paola who was headed for the airport. When the doors closed she pleaded with the assistant to get the driver to open them but the bus kept on going and the assistant explained politely that drivers were ordered not to reopen the bus doors once closed.
In Tarxien, people had to wait for over half an hour for buses that were scheduled to pass every 10 minutes.
Also in Paola, people complained as the bus to Mater Dei Hospital was running more than 20 minutes late.
An elderly man got confused, paying for a one-way ticket and then saying he wanted a day ticket. The driver patiently explained the difference. Speaking in a rather loud, but polite voice, he asked commuters to please consult the Arriva literature they had received at home.
The topic of discussion on the bus was, as expected, the bus service itself, with some saying that the details on the pamphlets they had received were not clear enough for them.