Bus route changes ‘a challenge’
Changes to the bus network that will be put into place next week are of “a significant nature” and could create some “challenges”, according to the public transport company’s top man.
“Ideally, we should be passing through a period of stability but November 6 will bring significant change for the company and its passengers,” Arriva managing director Keith Bastow says.
As the company braces itself for the latest route changes announced by the Transport Ministry, Mr Bastow says that physical space could be a problem at the Valletta terminus and the hospital.
The Valletta terminus was reduced in size when the new transport system was planned on the premise that the capital would no longer be a focal point for all bus routes. This will change on November 6 as all localities will now have a direct link to Valletta and the hospital.
Sitting at the boardroom table in his Qormi office, Mr Bastow rejects the argument that the latest changes are a return to the old system but acknowledges that the infrastructure at Valletta may not provide enough capacity to cope with more buses.
“Transport Malta will be providing the company with an additional three bays but Valletta is a very small, busy area and additional arrivals and departures could create some challenges,” Mr Bastow says.
A similar problem could arise at Mater Dei hospital, which also caters for the University.
“Given the higher number of services that will operate to Mater Dei from November 6 there could be a capacity problem if we are not careful.”
Arriva is in the process of changing its timetables and updating the computerised system as the November deadline approaches. The route changes will see some of the feeder services replaced by the new routes and 18 new bus stops will be erected.
But Mr Bastow insists route planning and infrastructural works are not Arriva’s responsibility.
“The contract had stipulated a review of the network after six months and it did not cater for any changes in between, however, we cooperated with Transport Malta and delivered the necessary changes irrespective of contractual obligations,” he says, adding that the original network gave consumers more travel options.
The November changes will be the fifth in four months since the new bus service run by Arriva started operating on July 3. The company has not had a period of stability but Mr Bastow says that at some point it will be necessary to analyse the system as a whole.
The significance of the forthcoming changes is also highlighted by the fact that Arriva will have six people coming over from the UK to help out in the transition. “Primarily, they (the UK staff) will complete the training of our supervisory staff and help us in the changeover that will happen on November 6.”
He shies away from discussing the level of compensation Arriva will ask for the network changes requested by Transport Malta. The government has already admitted that the changes will be partly borne by taxpayers in the form of a higher subsidy to cover the public service obligation.
“Discussions are ongoing,” Mr Bastow says, refusing to delve further into this matter.
Arriva will incur additional costs, including the subcontracting of some bus services, a temporary situation that Mr Bastow says will last a couple of months until the company employs more drivers and gets additional buses.
Turning to consumer complaints about long waiting times on bus stops, Mr Bastow partly blames the situation on traffic congestion and says that in Paola Square it sometimes takes 20 minutes for a bus to travel between two stops at peak time.
“Congestion dramatically hits the bus system badly since it sends timetables haywire,” he says, noting that the roadworks at Garibaldi Road in Luqa have altered traffic patterns in the area.
Mr Bastow says the contract makes no provisions for traffic congestion delays but adds that Arriva is discussing with Transport Malta to have more priority lanes for the bus service.
With the new route changes set to be in place two days after Parliament debates a motion of no confidence in Transport Minister Austin Gatt over his handling of the public transport reform, Mr Bastow remains confident that despite the flak, Arriva will be here for “the long term”.
“We are proud of what we have achieved despite the initial handicap of having a number of drivers not turn up for work. We are not there yet but we are pretty damn close.”