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Bendy bus drivers flag absent safety features

‘System discourages reporting of faults’

A number of Arriva bendy buses lack working safety features designed to minimise the risk of passengers falling under the vehicle, two drivers have said.

I’ve told management about this problem but they just shrug it off

Driver interlocks, which automatically prevent the snaking buses from moving if doors are open, are “almost always” switched off, according to a former Arriva driver.

The driver also claims that cameras aimed at buses’ middle and rear doors are often not working and sometimes missing, meaning that drivers sometimes cannot tell whether doors are still open when their buses start moving.

“It’s a tragedy waiting to happen and nobody seems to care,” Rosie, a former Arriva driver, said.

Rosie, who does not wish to be identified, resigned shortly after speaking to The Times over safety concerns and working conditions.

A recently retired bus driver and instructor, Gary Simmonds, who drove bendy buses in London until their removal in 2011, said he was “horrified” by the number of bendy buses in Malta missing the safety features.

Any bus without working door interlocks or cameras “would not be allowed on UK roads”, he said.

An Arriva spokesman said missing door cameras were sometimes out for repair and insisted that such devices could never replace drivers checking the doors through their side mirrors.

The company also said that while door interlocks were never switched off, drivers could disable them in emergencies by pressing a manual override switch.

Neither safety feature is explicitly mentioned in the company’s public transportation contract, which prohibits Arriva buses from moving if any doors are open. Transport Malta said use of cameras was “encouraged” and its inspectors had “noted a few instances where buses were in motion without the doors being closed and the respective penalties have been applied”.

However, Mr Simmonds said: “Bendy buses have these features for a reason. No new bus should move when its doors are open. No driver should be driving a bus unless they have working door cameras. It’s that simple.”

Rosie said cameras were out of order “so often that it can’t be a matter of repairs”. When challenged with Arriva’s statement that any disabled interlocks were down to drivers disabling them, she agreed, but said the company showed little interest in stopping the abuse.

“I’ve told management about this problem but they just shrug it off. And the system actually discourages drivers from reporting faults,” Rosie said.

It is drivers’ responsibility to check buses for defects when they pick them up from Arriva depots in the morning. They are given five minutes to do so, Rosie said.

“In those five minutes we’ve got to collect our duty sheets, find our bus and check it. And once you sign for your bus, it’s your responsibility. If you get stopped by a warden, you, not Arriva, pay the fine.

“We’re allowed to refuse a bus but three refusals get you a warning – even if you had valid reasons each time,” Rosie said.

Despite several reminders, Arriva did not reply to questions about its bus checking procedures. As a result, drivers tended to gloss over tests, she continued.

“Transport Malta inspectors sometimes come aboard and check but most only check the basics: breaks, indicators, headlamps, that sort of thing.”

Transport Malta said inspectors did not specifically check for working door interlocks, as these were a “standard safety issue”.

Inspectors had noted two buses that moved with their doors open in recent months, it said.

One bendy bus driver showed The Times his camera panel. Monitors were installed but not working.

Whenever I complain, I’m told I should be grateful we’re not driving the old buses... but I didn’t sign up to drive those

“Drivers switch them off and nobody checks for them, so everyone’s happy,” another driver said when asked about door interlocks.

Mr Simmonds told The Times he kept a log book detailing various faults he noticed on Maltese Arriva buses. It details the bus registration number and its faults, from “cracked windscreen” to “bus moves with door open” or “smashed rear panel”.

Arriva is paid an average of €685,000 a month to run the public transport system using its fleet of 285 buses. It has also received various taxpayer-funded, one-off payments, including more than €235,000 to ship 30 buses to Malta and a further €244,000 to refurbish 28 vehicles it bought from Transport Malta.

Its original €6.2 million yearly government subsidy was upped to €8 million a year after widespread complaints of inadequate service led to a route overhaul.

Mr Simmonds said he had turned to the newspapers as a last resort.

“I’ve been to Arriva’s offices four times to tell them about safety shortcomings but they don’t seem to care. They just take my number, say they’ll call back and never do.”

Rosie, at the time still employed by Arriva, voiced her frustration.

“Whenever I complain, I’m told I should be grateful we’re not driving the old buses, with their exposed engines and no doors. But I didn’t sign up to drive those. What’s the point in buying modern buses if we’re not going to use them properly?”

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