Update 2: Red mini buses pick up people from bus stops; drivers claim they were threatened not to go in to work
British drivers to fill-in gaps in Arriva service from tonight
Last updated at 9.50 additions in bold. Adds video
Arriva Malta is bringing in 55 British drivers to temporarily fill the gaps in its service after some 60 Maltese drivers did not show up.
Informed sources said the first group of British drivers flew in late yesterday and are already familiarising themselves with the routes. Others will fly in this morning.
"We intend to have these drivers on the service as soon as possible," an Arriva spokesman said.
The measure is temporary until Arriva recruits more Maltese drivers.
The Arriva contract with Transport Malta allows for such an emergency measure as long as it is temporary. Permanent drivers have to be fluent in Maltese.
Transport Malta agreed to the concession. The British drivers are expected to be in Malta for a month.
There are 470 drivers on the service.
Arriva said this morning that 56 drivers did not show up for work, again causing delays on much of the network.
Two readers contacted timesofmalta.com that they had been picked up from bus stops by red mini buses and paid €1 for a trip to Valletta.
A reader from Zabbar said he was on the bus stop for 90 minutes.
Another one, from Dingli, said he had still to see a bus in that locality.
"My bus arrived after an hour, when buses used to go past here after 10 minutes," an irate elderly woman said in Paola.
In Blata l-Bajda, a timesofmalta.com reporter came across a man who said he had walked all the way from Paola because the bus did not show up.
Several other people said, at 8 a.m., that they were supposed to be at work at 7.30.
At Sliema, passengers said the situation was 'chaotic' and air conditioners were not working. "It was like a sauna" a passenger said.
In St Julians the ticketing machine on a bus was not working. "I could only buy a 50c ticket to Valletta" the commuter said. The driver on the bus was polite, she said.
However on other buses, in Sliema, a driver's attitude was rude, with him shouting at the passengers to tell them that the bus was full up, when, she said, it was not full.
Many people could be seen on bus stops, and longer-than-usual traffic jams also built up in several localities in the early morning as many workers appeared to have played safe and opted to drive to work, rather than taking the buses.
However the situation appeared to be improving by mid-morning. An Arriva spokesman said 80% of the electronic information boards on the buses are now working, after serious technical difficulties yesterday, and almost all the buses have been put in service, a spokesman for the company said.
A number of drivers who turned up to protest, without their uniform, at the Arriva offices yesterday, did not show up today.
There were also unconfirmed reports that some of the drivers who did not show up for work claimed that they had been threatened not to go to work.
The company this morning advised passengers to be prepared for 'some delays' but said services from Cirkewwa and at Gozo are running as planned.
"Services from Marsa and Floriana depots have been significantly affected by the driver shortfall, with all services impacted to some extent but there are particular delays to routes 11, 12, 13 and X1, X2, X3 and X4.
"Every effort is being made to put in extra journeys to substitute where possible," the company said.
Spokesman Piers Marlow, a director of ArrivaMalta said the number of bus drivers who did not turn up this morning was less than yesterday.
"We are already working to reduce the net impact, it is inevitable that it will have a significant impact on services. There will be network disruption with some journeys missing and some delays.
"I apologise to passengers and assure you that we are working hard to run all routes and will make every effort to get passengers moving around the island as quickly as possible."
He asked passengers to appreciate that the majority of the people working for Arriva Malta were working hard and trying their very best, in a challenging situation not of their making.
The company did not say why drivers had not turned up but drivers protested on Saturday over their working conditions, including more hours than expected and the split shift. A company spokesman said yesterday the company took a 'dim view' of absence from work.
Transport Minister Austin Gatt on Saturday said that workers who did not like the conditions and did not show up should be dismissed.
Asked what the company was doing, a spokesman for Arriva said yesterday that the company's focus at present was to get the service on track.
The GWU thanked the absolute majority of the drivers for turning up and working hard and asked the people to cooperate.
It said a new roster will be brought in by July 17.