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Update 3: Commuters show their frustration

Commuters waiting at the terminus in Valletta, yesterday. Photo: Jason Borg

Commuters waiting at the terminus in Valletta, yesterday. Photo: Jason Borg

Last update: 5 p.m.

Arriva is doing its utmost to ensure that holes in the service are plugged, the company said this evening, adding that, however, the disruption would continue today but further progress should be registered tomorrow.

It said this evening there were localised issues today, mostly in the south of the island, including at Xghajra, Zebbug, Qormi, Birzebbuga, Luqa, Zurrieq and Marsaxlokk.

Generally, services in the north of the island and Gozo, while experiencing some disruption, have improved, it said.

Piers Marlow said:

“Once again I would like to apologise for the disruption that the present driver shortages are causing, and thank passengers for their patience and all our drivers for their continued hard work under difficult circumstances at this time.

"We would like to assure our customers that we are working hard behind the scenes to improve the service in the short-term with drivers from elsewhere and additional management support."

 Mr Marlow said that there were now 50 foreign drivers, some of whom were in service while the rest werecompleting route familiarisation, and this would help to deliver a better quality service than that presently operated.

Angry commuters at the Qormi Park and Ride this afternoon complained that they had to wait for a bus for more than three hours.

A man who called The Times offices said there were some 100 passengers waiting.

Other readers reported problems at Luqa and Dingli, among other areas.

Last night a bus was damaged when it crashed into cars as it tried to go down It-Telgha tal-Kirxa to Balluta. People on the scene said it got stuck between a wall and cars it crashed into.

Yesterday, commuters did not feel there was any tangible improvement in the new Arriva bus service, with many of them voicing concern that they cannot keep on reporting late for work.

The scene at the Valletta terminus was still one of great disorder: schedules were still not adhered to, the digital display boards were not working and waiting commuters were told to ignore the timetables for yet another day. Patience was running thin and, after three days of public transport chaos, people were not willing to be forgiving of the new system anymore.

"This morning I was on the bus stop at 5 a.m. but got to Valletta at 8 a.m.," said one woman from Żejtun. "It's not fair on us. I can't tell my manager to expect me to be late till the bus system becomes regular," she said as others agreed with her.

"I've been using the bus transport for the past 47 years and I've never been late in my life," said Charles Dimech 58, from Ħamrun. "Even when there were general strikes, I somehow managed. We got to work on time in a military truck. This is the first time in my life I've clocked in late," he said, still visibly upset.

The sense of disgruntlement was oozing from all corners at the Valletta terminus. People complained that buses that normally ran every 15 minutes were not even arriving every hour.

Moreover, most routes have increased the detour to get to a destination, which meant that trips were taking much longer. This was experienced by journalists of The Times who caught the bus to Marsaxlokk from Valletta. What once used to be a 30-minute trip lasted a full hour – with stops at the Marsa park and ride, Paola, Tarxien and Żejtun.

A commuter from Marsaxlokk said that even when the service would be working properly it would still mean she would have to get up earlier and get back home later, wasting time on commuting. Several also complained about the slow bus driving: "It's as if the drivers are treading on egg shells, the way they are driving. If there's no traffic, can't they speed up a bit?"

A woman said the bus ride from Qormi in the morning had taken two hours, a journey that normally did not last more than 20 minutes. "We were freezing. The air conditioning was way too cold. It's fine if you're on the bus for half an hour but after two hours we could barely move," she said.

At noon, on bay 15, from where buses nos. 71 and 72 depart for Luqa, the Airport, Kirkop, Safi, Żurrieq, Mqabba and Qrendi, there were more than a 100 people waiting. They had been waiting for more than an hour. "Why didn't they just change the buses and keep the same routes," quite a few were asking.

As the wait got longer, with no Arriva assistant being able to tell them what time to expect the bus, the frustration escalated. Calls for the resignation of Transport Minister Austin Gatt could be heard. Others pointed their fingers at the Prime Minister: "Look what (Lawrence) Gonzi got us into!" "Pajjiż tal-Mickey Mouse" (Mickey Mouse country). At one point, the crowd even burst into an impromptu chanting of "Arriva! Arriva!"

After an hour-and-a-half-long-wait, bus no. 72 finally drove in the bay. Only half of the waiting crowd managed to cram in the bus. The rest were left waiting for the next one. A comment by an elderly man was, perhaps, the only positive one for the day. "We're been saved by the weather," he said.

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