The old, creaking, colourful (in all ways) Malta bus has its days numbered. Because on 3 July, Arriva, the European transport group starts operating Malta’s scheduled bus services. Its fleet is 66 per cent new King Long buses. Its remit is to “..replace a large part of the island’s ageing bus fleet to greatly improve passenger comfort and reduce the environmental impact of transport in Malta”.
The King Longs, imported from China, have certain advantages that the long-suffering, local commuter may appreciate even if tourists miss the hilarity and fun of the old bus rides. Among the pros, one aspect stands out above all: comfortable seating. Err, who can say the old horse hair, dimpled Neoprene and plastic-covered seats of old were that bad? Seats are never comfortable in buses, whatever their age. But we might expect to have more comfort on the King Longs if their suspension is up to scratch – millions of traffic humps and bumps on of course.
Other plusses of the new buses include low-rise floors and real-time passenger displays, including next stop announcements (in which language or languages?). This will help tourists who have so far had to rely on the grace and favour of individual drivers to point out stops.
Now, to the issue of those articulated buses. The so-called ‘bendy’ buses. While London is ridding itself of bendy buses, Malta is gaining them… on main-line routes only, we’re told. But odds-on bets for the first to be spotted wrapped where it shouldn’t be.
Our post a few months back asking ‘what if the Malta bus were to disappear?‘ gave rise to a good debate in the comments about the pros and cons of new vs. old and on the bendy issue. All commentators agreed that Malta needs to ditch belching (sometimes paraffin-run) buses and clean up its bus act. But most were emotional too about the demise of the iconic Malta bus – so beloved by tourists for its quirks and cheapness, if not for its routes, hours and reliability. It is the most photographed bus in the world. It will linger on postcard stands, and a few routes. Its destiny now as a museum piece, or scrap.
Another 20th century icon gone. R.I.P Malta Bus.