Arriva denies discriminating against foreign-looking Maltese

Controversy: Maltese residents pay lower fares.

Controversy: Maltese residents pay lower fares.

Arriva has rejected claims its bus drivers are discriminating against some Maltese citizens and residents based on appearance by asking only for identification from those who look or sound foreign.

The Sunday Times has on many occasions witnessed passengers who appear to be Maltese being charged discounted fares for Maltese ID card holders without being asked to show identification. On the other hand, Maltese and Maltese resident passengers who appear to be foreign were seen being asked to present proof of residence.

This means ‘Maltese looking’ non-residents could be charged the discounted rate, whereas ‘foreign looking’ Maltese or Maltese resident passengers might be charged the standard fare, depending on the driver’s judgement.

Standard fares are up to 40 per cent higher than discounted fares. A standard one-day ticket costs €2.60 and a standard seven-day ticket costs €12, whereas the corresponding discounted tickets cost €1.50 and €6.50.

The fare structure has been dogged by controversy since it was announced last November, amid complaints that tourists should not be forced to pay more than residents for the same service.

The European Commission launched an inquiry that same month to determine whether the fare structure is compatible with EU law, which prohibits discrimination based on nationality. It has yet to reach a decision. An Arriva spokes­man said all drivers are trained to ask every passenger buying a ticket whether they are a resident and if they respond yes the driver should ask for identification. If they fail to present ID, they should be charged the standard fare rather than the discounted rate, regardless of their nationality and resident status.

Arriva Malta’s website states that discounted fares are available for ‘Malta ID card holders’ and it does not mention citizenship or nationality in relation to the discounted fares.

It also states that passengers who purchase discounted tickets must carry their ID cards at all times while travelling.

The Arriva spokesman said inspectors will be boarding buses to check tickets and passengers in possession of discounted tickets who are unable to produce a Maltese ID card will be forced to pay a penalty fare.

By the time of going to print, the Arriva spokesman had been unable to confirm whether drivers had reported difficulties in checking the IDs of every passenger, or what disciplinary procedures were in place for drivers who fail to check the identity of passengers.

Arriva was bound by the conditions of its contract to operate the service and this includes the discounted fare structure based on Maltese ID cards, the spokesman added.

But there seemed to be some confusion yesterday between Arriva’s and the Transport Ministry’s interpretations of what the contract stipulates regarding the use of Malta ID cards. When asked what guarantees the government insisted upon with Arriva to ensure all passengers were treated equally by drivers when buying a ticket, a Transport Ministry spokesman said passengers claiming a resident discount may be asked to prove their eligibility by showing their ID card according to the contract.

“The verification process is up to Arriva and Transport Malta would interfere if anyone entitled to a discount and able to prove that entitlement is not granted such.

Naturally, that verification process, as with anything else, must be compliant with applicable laws that are in place in Malta,” the ministry said.

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