The Malta Independent 18 July 2024, Thursday
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Malta Public Transport not meeting passenger demand 'because of traffic issues'

Rebecca Iversen Sunday, 25 March 2018, 10:30 Last update: about 7 years ago

Malta Public Transport (MPT) is not reaching its full capacity of passengers due to growing traffic congestion, the company informed The Malta Independent on Sunday.

A spokesperson for MPT emphasised that it was not a matter of capacity or the need for more buses but, more importantly, having enough drivers to combat the traffic congestion plaguing the country's roads.

This newspaper has received a number of reports of long waiting times for buses and even social media posts from the general public describing the deterioration of the service. Many claim that even after waiting a long time, many buses arrive full.

Currently, a private bus company is under contract by Transport Malta to provide the public bus service. However, it is Transport Malta that decides on the routes, times and frequency of the service.

"Malta Public Transport is carrying more people than ever before", said the spokesperson. "In the last three years, passenger numbers have increased by 30 per cent, reaching 48 million, and so far this year we are experiencing an additional increase of 10 per cent compared to last year. This is a sign that confidence in our service is growing."

Interestingly, MTP informed this newspaper that although the public bus service has the capacity to carry 28,000 passengers an hour, at peak times only 12,000 passengers per hour are being served. "We aren't even reaching our full capacity because it's taking longer for buses to reach their destinations as they're stuck in traffic, meaning passengers are waiting longer."

On average, every hour 6,500 passengers use a bus and the busiest routes are those in the south, where an average of 1,200 passengers an hour use the service. Bus routes to Sliema are also among the busiest, carrying 900 passengers an hour.

"We are also very aware that there are a number of bus routes with high demand and the buses on these routes are very busy. In most cases they are high-frequency routes, which means that passengers are able to take the next bus. However, there are some areas that have less frequent services and a bus that is full may mean that passengers are not able to board a bus for another half-an-hour. Discussions are taking place with the Authority for Transport to address this.

"When a driver is off sick, another driver has to cover for them and if there aren't enough drivers and all the buses are stuck in traffic, then a situation will arise where we have missed trips," the MPT spokesperson said.

When asked whether a bigger fleet of buses will be introduced due to the increase in passenger numbers, Malta Public Transport said that it was not a case of increasing the number of buses but about using the buses where they are needed. According to MTP, over 200 new buses have been added to the fleet in the last year or so and it acknowledged that the increase in traffic and in journey times has increased considerably.

"We are committed to continuing to improve our overall customer experience. However, this requires the commitment of many other stakeholders. The recent overnight removal of the bus lanes in Marsa has made the situation worse for the 25,000 people that use that route every day."

There has recently been speculation that problems in respect of the bus service is the result of a lack of available drivers and MTP has given assurances that it is dealing with this issue head-on, confirming that the training of new drivers is under way.

"We are very aware of the challenges that we are facing, particularly when it comes to the employment of drivers. We currently have 60 drivers in training and another 100 who will join our training programme in the coming weeks. Our recruitment team and driving instructors have been working tirelessly to ensure that we have a sustainable number of professional drivers in service in time for the increased service during the summer period."

MTP noted that at the beginning of 2017, 95 per cent of buses were departing on time, yet due to increased traffic congestion this has not been maintained. It explained that routes are clearly planned in a way so that one bus does not just do one trip but completes one trip and then another. When a bus is held up in traffic and will therefore be running late on its return route, a spare driver is sent to cover the return trip but this results in disrupting the whole system, MTP said.

MTP also revealed that when passengers see buses with the sign 'Sorry not in Service' this will be a bus that is being sent to a particular destination to replace a bus that is not going to make its journey in time. "Most of the time, it's the bus you're waiting for coming to pick you up."

The company believes that the long-term solution is to continue to recruit more drivers. Interestingly, Malta's public bus service finds itself in the position where approximately 20 per cent of its routes carry some 50 per cent of its passengers, which, it says, makes it very lopsided. Whilst some routes are only used by a handful of people a day, others are used by hundreds every hour - which makes the situation all the more difficult to resolve.

  • Malta Public Transport has seen an increase of 30 per cent in passengers over the last three years, reaching 48 million. This year the bus service is experiencing an increase of 10 per cent in passenger numbers.
  • The service's full capacity is 28,000 passengers an hour but the current peak capacity is only 12,000 passengers an hour. On average, 6,500 passengers an hour are using the service.
  • The busiest routes are those in the south, with an average of 1,200 passengers an hour, and Sliema with 900 passengers an hour.



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