Malta’s buses are bound to feature hugely in anyone’s visit to the Islands. They are bright yellow and orange (in Malta) and grey and red (Gozo). Colour aside, you can’t miss them as they dominate the roads, in more ways than one. The bus fleet also sports some wonderful vintage models (usually Fords) dating back to ’50s and 60s’, if not earlier! Drivers tend to personalise their bus cabs, and it’s common to see interiors decorated with images of Elvis cheek-by-jowl with Madonnas, rosary crucifixes and tinsel left over from last Christmas. Our Flickr group photos show just how photogenic and popular Malta’s buses are. Here, one regular bus traveller, Rebecca Buttigieg, gives us her low-down on them.
The Bus System
The public bus system is licensed by the Government but run by a collective called the Public Transport Association or Assoċjazzjoni Transport Pubbliku (ATP), with each driver owning his bus.
Bus Termini and Routes
The main bus terminus is in Valletta, just outside the city gate, wrapped around the Triton fountain. You’ll know it when you see it – the dozens of bright yellow buses are difficult to miss. Almost all the bus routes in Malta start off here, and most of them end in a small terminus in one of the various villages, where the driver will wait a little while, and then make the next trip back to the city.
Catching a bus
Riding a bus is easy – stand at a bus stop and stick your hand out when a bus comes along. Get on, pay the driver, and then ring the bell just before the bus stop you want to get off at.
Which Bus Route?
Each particular bus route is assigned a two- or three-digit number, and so all you need to know is which numbers go to or through wherever you want to go. As a general rule of thumb, the routes with numbers lower than 40 serve the south of Malta, the numbers above 40 serve the north, and those between 80 and 95 serve the central area. Route numbers between 60 and 70 run to, through or from the Sliema terminus, which serves as a sort of auxiliary to the one in Valletta.
The details of the routes can be very complicated, with some routes even varying according to the time of day and season, but do not despair – when in doubt, just ask a driver, dispatcher or even fellow passengers which bus you ought to catch to get to your destination. Just be prepared for a lively discussion while the most suitable options are debated by those in the vicinity!
Tickets & fare structure
These are usually bought on a trip-by-trip basis from the driver when you board the bus, and the cost depends on whether you are travelling within or across the ‘zones’ that Malta is divided into, and whether you are using a ‘normal’ bus route (E0.47 to E0.58) or one of the special direct routes (up to E1.16 if you cross zones). There are concessions for children and senior citizens, just ask the driver.
Passes valid for one or more days are available, but the pricing means that you only save money if you take several bus rides each day, or if you use the more expensive routes. This makes them a great option for sightseeing expeditions, but not so much if you only need to get somewhere and back.
Frustrations of using Maltese buses
The system can be a frustrating experience due to its limitations – most routes only operate between 6am and 9 or 10pm (excepting the night service laid on for Paceville), and although there are scheduled times, sometimes a bus just doesn’t show up. Passengers often complain about unreliable service and drivers’ behaviour, especially with regard to manners, giving incorrect change, and smoking. Likewise, drivers complain about passengers who are rude and who leave litter, leftovers and even graffiti behind on the bus. For these reasons, there is generally little love lost between drivers and passengers.
On the positive side
Such as it is though, the system does function quite well for the most part, especially on weekday mornings, and it enables thousands of people who can’t or won’t use a car to get around the island. The sad thing is that many car-users who would otherwise love to leave their cars at home refuse to use the bus system because of its inefficiencies and reputation for unreliability. But buses are cheap, so you can’t have everything! Tourists meanwhile often find the buses quaint and for them, bus rides are all part of the Malta experience, if a somewhat hot one in peak summer.
A reform is pending, which should involve, among other things, a new system of bus routes designed to provide better coverage. It will be interesting to see if this reform succeeds, and what changes it will bring to the system.
A final word: I ride buses on a daily basis, and I have been left stranded innumerable times. I tried to be fair though in my comments.
The Official ATP website for its list of ‘Malta Bus Routes 2008′.
Malta by Bus: a site run by a British enthusiast of Malta buses. It’s a great source for all things quirky on Malta’s buses, including their history, book annuals of vintage buses, as well as route info.