Autobuses de Leon today officially took over the bus service in Malta retaining the name Malta Public Transport.

Addressing a news conference this morning, chairman Felipe Cosmen said the changes agreed upon would be implemented gradually over the next year.

One of the major changes will be in the payment system with the introduction of a card similar to the Oyster Card in use in the UK. This system will be introduced in July.

The idea is to encourage people not to buy their tickets on the bus, in order to improve efficiency and provide a faster service. The cost of trips will work out to be substantially cheaper for card holders.

New routes and frequencies as announced last year will be phased in over the coming months and the company will employ 100 new drivers immediately and another 200 by the end of the year.

Once the Unscheduled Bus Service contract is over at the end of the month, the company will temporarily rent 40 buses but will get 142 new Euro VI two-door 9.6 metre buses by the end of the first quarter.

The company will be getting a subsidy of €23 million this year, which will go up to €29 million next year.

James Piscopo, from Transport Malta, said that according to the contract there will not be automatic increases in fares to cover inflation. Inflation could be covered by an increase in fares, an increase in subsidy, or both, at the discretion of the authorities.

He said that Arriva had wanted €45 million for the route network that would eventually be in place, a Maltese company had asked for €40 million and the Spaniards would be providing the service for €29 million.

The company will have a total of 360 buses in use, about 100 more than Arriva had.

Public Transport Minister Joe Mizzi said the contract reached with Autobuses de Leon would be tabled in Parliament once it reconvened. He noted that there would be one system covering both Malta and Gozo.

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