The Ombudsman has rapped Transport Malta for poor enforcement of regulations banning smoking on the buses after a commuter explained how he reported abuses 49 times, without action appearing to have been taken.

In a report published today, the Ombudsman said that a commuter had reported that last year he filed at least 30 reports to the authorities (the ADT and Transport Malta) about bus drivers who failed to observe the law regarding smoking on public transport.

He reported another 19 cases between January and May this year, giving full details of these cases and provided sufficient information for a proper investigation by the authorities.

He also submitted to the Ombudsman correspondence he had with Transport Malta where he insisted that the situation had reached alarming proportions that warranted the authority’s urgent intervention.

He said that the authority responsible for public transport had not taken legal action on any of these cases even if it issued warnings to the culprits.

The Ombudsman found no indication that complainant was ever requested to give evidence in court on his grievances even if he appeared reluctant to be summoned every time he reports a case since in his view it is the duty of the Enforcement Unit within Transport Malta to enforce the law.

Upon being asked by the Ombudsman about this situation, Transport Malta – which is responsible for enforcement of anti-smoking laws on public transport – stated that whenever a bus driver was caught smoking by one of its Enforcement Officers or was reported by a commuter who was prepared to give evidence under oath, legal action was taken against the offender.

However, in the case of bus drivers reported by commuters who are not ready to testify under oath. Transport Malta went on to explain that it had 30 Enforcement Officers on its books and that since 2008, 53 bus drivers were taken to court following reports by these officers.

The Ombudsman commented that the statistics given to him by Transport Malta raised more than an eyebrow.

"In over 30 months, 30 Enforcement Officers managed between them much less than two anti-smoking enforcements per month. Assuming that all these cases refer to abusive smoking by drivers – since they might also refer to other misdemeanours – this works out at a maximum of 53 abuses in 900 man-months or 0.59 enforcements per man-month. In contrast, a single commuter who obviously must have covered only a few routes of the local transport network had reported on his own no less than 49 cases of abuse over 17 months or 2.9 abuses per man-month."

The Ombudsman said he was quick to point out that these figures did not speak highly of the efficiency of the enforcement system practised by the transport authorities at least over the last 17 months.

"Considering that the authority responsible for public transport is obliged to enforce legislation that concerns a serious health hazard, it appears that this organisation is not really doing much to protect commuters from abuse by drivers. Clearly enforcement procedures are not functioning as they should and urgent action is needed on the part of the authority."

The Ombudsman said the duty of the regulator was to ensure strict adherence to regulations and to have in place proper administrative structures and an effective control system to enable it to curb abuses.

"This investigation showed that the authorities are seriously failing in their duty and in their responsibility towards commuters," the Ombudsman said.

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