The Transport Ministry will not be imposing penalties on Arriva Malta for the time being because the authorities prefer to invest all their energies on ensuring an improvement of the public transport service.

A ministry spokesman said yesterday: “Though, of course, there will be a time to take stock of the causes of the weak start to the service and what could have been done to avoid them, the topmost priority has been and continues to be taking all measures to ensure an improvement and regularity of services.”

Minister Austin Gatt said on the weekly TVM current affairs programme Dissett last week Arriva had assured the public it would fix things by the end of the week.

Asked whether he would impose a penalty on the company if the system did not improve, he replied: “Undoubtedly... but it is not the penalty that will satisfy me. I will be satisfied when the system works.”

The ministry and Transport Malta have, since July 3, “been on the ground noting  failures in the service and pushing the operator on the prioritisation of solutions”, he said. “In some respects we are noticing improvements, in some others not yet.”

A team of about 40 people from Transport Malta is monitoring performance, facilitating information exchange to reduce delays, providing assistance to passengers in Valletta and major interchanges and coordinating supplementary transport services.

“The most important job for the authority as regulator, however, is to drive the operator into taking those measures that are needed to reach stability and regularity as quickly as possible and right after that to fulfil all the obligations of the contract.

“We did not expect to be having to do this at this time but, then again, we did not expect the service to start with a quarter of its workforce not showing up for work. Though that may not be the only cause of the problems there are on the ground, it has certainly been the cause of the problem of having too few buses on the road filling up too quickly, increasing waiting time for people left behind.

“In the meantime... we have also been working with the operator to discuss network improvements to facilitate access to passengers who are not adequately served by the routes rather than by the operation itself. We hope to be able to announce decisions in this regard in the next few days,” the spokesman said.

The General Workers’ Union yesterday met with Arriva to discuss the employees’s roster.

A new shift for Arriva bus drivers should come into effect at the end of the month following changes in the roster that would start tomorrow, the GWU said.

The new shift, whereby a third of drivers will stop working at 4 p.m. with the others starting at 1 p.m., will be implemented at the end of the month. Both GWU and Arriva agreed that the drivers have done their best to give the people the best possible service.

Meanwhile, the Cottonera and Kalkara mayors joined the chorus of local council appeals and in a coordinated statement said they expected Transport Malta and Arriva to resolve problems the new transport system had created, including people reporting late for work and missing hospital appointments.

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