Concern over delay to summer bus schedule

The tourism industry is “very concerned” about the delay in Arriva’s summer bus schedule.

Malta’s image is damaged by having large groups of tourists waiting for long periods at bus stops, according to Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association president Tony Zahra.

With Malta experiencing a huge influx of tourists each summer, the new time-table featured greater frequencies, later operating hours and some new routes to meet demand.

It was supposed to be operational from today but the transport company became embroiled in an industrial dispute after drivers complained about their new rosters.

Following a conciliation meeting with the General Workers’ Union, Arriva agreed last Thursday to postpone introducing its summer schedule until June 30 so it can devise a new drivers’ roster.

Drivers who spoke to Times of Malta last week complained they would be forced at times to work 14-hour days with 90-minute breaks, which were too short for them to go home and spend time with their families.

Malta has many unique requirements

Arriva did not have enough drivers to cover all routes, the drivers claimed.

The company has advertised in Spain and the UK for drivers willing to work May to October.

Mr Zahra said the MHRA would try to assist Arriva to devise a system that meets the island’s needs, adding that the company lacks senior management personnel with local knowledge.

“Malta has many unique summer requirements that require an efficient, well-planned public transport system,” he said, citing the influx of foreign tourists and the migration of Maltese to their summer residences and the weekend closures of roads due to festi.

Route 237 began operating from Għadira Bay to Popeye Village last month. The director of the tourist attraction, Mark Bonnici, said this would not be affected by the postponed summer roster.

However, a proposed route from Ċirkewwa to Popeye Village that would have helped to attract visitors from Gozo has been put off till June 30.

“It would have made life a bit easier but the delay will not affect us too much,” Mr Bonnici said.

When contacted, an Arriva spokesman said it was not the company’s decision to postpone the summer schedule.

The company has enough drivers to service the increased summer service, following the recruitment and training programme undertaken both in Malta and overseas in anticipation of the change. Arriva is now “regrettably” having to finance the costs of the extra drivers recruited until the new system is in place.

“Arriva confirms the new shifts adopted for the summer schedule were practically the same conditions as offered previously, except for the operating day due to the introduction of the summer night buses as well as increased frequencies on the other services.”

Arriva said it would continue to monitor demand and increase resources if needed by operating extra buses.

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