New bus service starts in July
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New bus service starts in July

Commuters on the new bus service will quickly forget the old, Transport Minister Austin Gatt hopes.

Commuters on the new bus service will quickly forget the old, Transport Minister Austin Gatt hopes.

Talks with European bus and train operator Arriva over reform of the bus service have been concluded and the contract is expected to be signed in the coming days.

Writing in The Times, Infrastructure Minister Austin Gatt announces that the new service will officially start on July 3.

The minister said the targets he had set out at the beginning of the talks had been met.

A process for the re-training of drivers, recruitment of new ones as well as infrastructural changes such as the building of new bus stops, interchanges and termini, will start tomorrow. Mepa has already issued permits for new termini in Valletta and Victoria.

"This will be a radical change, especially for regular bus users. Our bus network has barely ever changed in 40 years, so the first day of service will be like taking all Maltese commuters abroad to a city they have never been to, trying to learn their way around a transport system they have never used," Dr Gatt said.

"Very quickly we will forget how things were in the “old days”. But for a few more months we will continue to experience a bus fleet with an average age of 35 years and with many buses that can celebrate the Queen’s upcoming jubilee as if it were their own.

"We are working hard to make sure the transition is as smooth as possible for the regular bus users. Some things will go wrong and we will work to repair the inevitable initial glitches as quickly as possible. We are making sure costs for regular commuters do not go up and we will be out there in full force explaining how the new system works and how to find out the best way to travel. But our eyes are set beyond the loyal customers that, for better or for worse, continued to use the current service, no matter how miserable.

The transition to the new service will certainly be like a spectator sport for non-bus users. But this is not an aesthetic change we are making. This is not the motorised equivalent of a newly embellished public square. The transformation we are working for is in the lifestyle of that non-bus user," Dr Gatt said.

He point out that a recent household survey had found that two of every five car users would switch to the buses if they could. It was therefore hoped that the service would cater for these people’s needs.

"Once the initial glitches are out of the way, we hope to offer these car users just the service they need: comfortable, clean and airconditioned buses running on routes, hours and frequencies that meet their needs.

"It is a myth to expect a bus to be faster than your car. But there are many ways a bus can beat your car: it costs a fourth to take a bus ride than to make the same trip by the cheapest of cars; no need to look for parking; you can read a book on the trip; a little walking to and from the bus stop cannot harm," Dr Gatt said.

"From a wider point of view, more bus use will mean less congestion, better air quality, a healthier community, less waste of time and a more productive economy. It is wrong to underestimate the air quality challenge facing us. A study by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority found that maximum levels of pollution in our air are exceeded several times a year in many busy roads. If we do nothing about this – and doing “something” can only have the effect of reducing cars on our roads – we are facing stiff EU fines."

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