Arriva’s bumpy first year
A year ago, when Minister Austin Gatt unveiled the new public transport service, he did so in a blaze of promises.
People who did not want to use the buses, he pledged among other things, would no longer be able to use the excuse of unreliable timings.
But, one year after the smart, aquamarine Arriva buses replaced the old yellow clunkers, commuters are still complaining that the service often does not run on time.
It is just one example of how it has failed to live up to the hype – although there have been distinct improvements in several areas over the past few months.
An Arriva spokesman gave the company’s own excuse for the new “unreliable timings the service was “at times” disrupted by traffic congestion, road works and badly parked vehicles.
“Arriva respects and keeps in line with timetables and to this effect we can confirm that 99 per cent of routes are completed,” he said.
In April Dr Gatt said Arriva had been fined €284,250 since November over shortcomings in its service, including delays. During his speech on July 2, the eve of Arriva’s first day of operation, Dr Gatt did prepare the public for teething problems.
In fact the new service got off on the wrong foot, with some 100 drivers surprising everyone by not turning up for work because they disagreed over their work rosters. The issue was eventually ironed out but not before making it a nightmare for Arriva.
However, the drivers have remained somewhat volatile as yesterday they set up a new union to fight for their rights and handle the collective agreement, still a bone of contention.
During his speech, Dr Gatt had also said people would be experiencing more comfortable and environmentally friendly buses. Most are glad to see these two promises were, by and large, kept. Two exceptions are the lack of air conditioning in some vehicles and the occasional bump and delay experienced by commuters from countless minor accidents in which the buses have been involved.
Improved routes were also among the promises – a claim that turned out to be fiercely contested by commuters for the first few months of the service.
They complained bitterly that they were taking far too long to get to their destination.
Since then, Arriva has revamped its routes, re-introducing the direct buses to Valletta from every locality that everyone was used to from the old system, and the complaints seem to have died down.
A spokesman for the company said there were no further new routes in the pipeline.
So what are the plans for the year ahead?
“Arriva’s main challenge this year... is to increase bus usage on the Maltese islands,” he said.
“We will be promoting bus use and the services available such as airport routes, routes to popular beaches, the night service, connections to Gozo and much more.”