What is new on the bus routes?
With Transport Malta releasing the bus routes that will come into effect when a new operator is chosen, Patrick Cooke and Kurt Sansone analysed some of the proposed changes.
It will be a while before commuters digest the new bus routes but a cursory look at them reveals no significant departure from the current network.
Transport Malta has tweaked some routes, scrapped others and introduced new ones, but the network, which is based on direct links to Valletta, has also retained inter-town linkages introduced when Arriva started operating.
On Wednesday, when the routes were released, timesofmalta.com was flooded with comments, with some readers protesting that they would be served by fewer buses than before.
The Sunday Times of Malta carried out a comparative exercise on a few of the more popular routes, some of which proved to be very problematic in the past.
A reduction in service can be noted on the two express routes that connect the airport to the tourist meccas of St Julian’s and Buġibba.
The X2, which links the airport to St Julian’s via Sliema, will now operate at one bus per hour in summer and winter, down from one bus every half an hour under Arriva.
The X3, another airport express that serves the tourism hotspot of Buġibba, will also operate with one bus per hour instead of the previous two.
Sliema and St Julian’s, meanwhile, which have large volumes of commuters who work in Valletta as well as tourists, have roughly the same number of buses linking them with the capital.
But route 12 that linked Buġibba-Sliema-Valletta has been abolished, meaning fewer buses between two of Malta’s main tourist towns. It has been replaced by route 14, which originates in Pembroke. This new route departs every 20 minutes at daytime and 30 minutes at night time.
Route 13, which used to leave Pembroke park-and-ride every 20 minutes, will now link the outlying village of Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq to Valletta via Sliema, departing every 10 minutes, while route 15 that departs from the Sliema Ferries to Valletta will still run every 30 minutes in winter and every 20 minutes in summer.
On route 31, a heavily used route that connects Buġibba with Mater Dei Hospital, the University and Valletta, buses will depart every 30 minutes rather than every 20 minutes.
On the southern flank, the airport villages and towns served by the 70s routes will witness a slight improvement, and the introduction of a new route to Qrendi that also serves the tourist attraction of Blue Grotto.
Buses on route 71 that departs from Żurrieq’s main square, will leave every 20 minutes between 5.10am and 8.10pm, with a 30-minute gap at night.
The new schedule will improve the early morning frequency – currently buses leave every 30 minutes between 5.12am and 6.12am – but during daytime, commuters will lose the alternate 10-minute and 20-minute intervals when buses leave.
But route 72 from Qrendi to Valletta will now depart every 20 minutes throughout the day, and every 30 minutes after 8.41pm.
This will benefit commuters who had to contend with a bus every half an hour during daytime.
A similar improvement will happen on route 73 that connects the hamlet of Bubaqra in Żurrieq to Valletta. A bus will now depart every 20 minutes as opposed to every 30 minutes.
The area will also be served by the new bus route 74 that connects Żurrieq to Valletta via Blue Grotto and Qrendi. The route will be served every 30 minutes between 5.35am and 7.35am, and every hour after that. The last bus will be at 7.35pm.
The large community of Marsascala will be served by three routes from Valletta, with frequencies remaining pretty much as they are today, albeit with some improvement on the principal route, 91.
Route 91 will have buses leaving every 15 minutes like they do today, but this interval will now be extended by another hour until 8pm under the proposed schedule. The 15-minute departure slot today only stretches up to 7.12pm, after which buses leave every 30 minutes.
The two other routes that serve Marsascala, 92 and 93, the latter also serving the Żonqor and Jerma areas, will see buses running at hourly intervals as is the current situation.
However, Żabbar residents and those in the Fgura and Paola area will have a new route serving the community that departs from Żabbar centre.
Route 90, with a frequency of 20 minutes, will alleviate the problems in these three localities that were primarily served by the Marsascala and Xgħajra routes. A major complaint has been that buses departing from Marsascala and Xgħajra are always full by the time they reach Żabbar and Fgura, especially during the morning.
Meanwhile, the Nationalist Party yesterday said not enough information had been published about the new routes. Only the departure and arrival points had been announced thus far, the Opposition said.
“Transport Minister Joe Mizzi had to be clear about what changes he was bringing in, as the people expected substantial improvement, which they had been promised.”
The people also expected the fares to remain unchanged, the party said.