Malta's new public transport service provider, Autobuses de León, begins operations today in what has been termed as a 'soft entry' by Transport Minister Joe Mizzi. Soft entry or not, the company faces a hard task after the much-maligned attempt by Arriva to revolutionise public transport in 2011.
Speaking during a press conference launching the new service, ALESA director Felipe Cosmen said the new route network will start to be phased in come March.
He said a system similar to the London Oyster card will be introduced to discourage commuter buying tickets on the bus.
A single journey will cost prepaid cardholders 75 cents, whereas a single-journey ticket bought on the bus will cost €1.50.
100 new drivers will be recruited locally, and a total of 300 new workers will be employed by the end of 2015.
He said the new service will continue to be offered under the ‘Malta Public Transport Service’ company name, as focus groups preferred this name over the Autobuses de León name.
Transport Minister Joe Mizzi said the service will be improved gradually and will keep growing and improving over time.
“We may be criticised for being overcautious, but we cannot be criticised for being hasty,” he said.
Transport Malta CEO James Piscopo said fares can be increased at the discretion of the authority. He said the subsidy offered to the operator is linked to inflation. The authority has the option of either increasing fares or increasing the subsidy.
If all goes to plan today, commuters using the new service should not notice much difference from the one provided by the government-owned company Malta Public Transport Service over the last year.
The Spanish company is being given time to find its feet, with the soft entry concept ensuring that the pressure of public expectation is kept off both it and the Transport Ministry for the time being. In the coming months, the new IT and ticketing systems will gradually be launched. New routes are expected to be place by summer, once the 142 new buses ordered by the company arrive. All buses will sport a white and green livery. The company will be investing €40 million in the new service.
The new routes serviced by the company will add an extra three million kilometres a year to the current routes. The company said it will be adding 3,000 seats into the network, creating a 20% increase in capacity.Autobuses de León faced its first hurdle before pen was even put to paper on the new deal.
A local consortium that also made a bid for the contract filed a warrant of prohibitory injunction in court, saying that Transport Malta had given Autobuses de León a competitive advantage by allowing a gradual phase-in of its new service. The injunction was overturned in December, allowing for the formal signing of the new contract on 20 December 2014. The company will receive a €23 million this year, which is expected to increase to €29 million in 2016 once the new operator implements its full network of routes.
Malta Public Transport and Transport Malta held a meeting this week to introduce the management team from the new operator to the General Workers Union as the recognized union representing the employees of the bus company.One of Arriva's main problems was a rocky relationship with its drivers, who claimed that they were being worked like slaves by the company.
Autobuses de León held a "cordial and positive" with the General Workers Union this week, according to a press release by is public relations company. The Spanish company will be recruiting a number of new drivers for the service.