Twelve months on, daily commuter Sarah Carabott takes a trip through the ups and downs of one of the biggest public service reforms the island has seen
Stranded somewhere between Mellieħa and St Paul’s Bay at 9.45 p.m. – more than 30 minutes after the bus we were on huffed its last gasp of exhaust – I fish out my mobile phone, desperate to hear someone at the other end reassuring me the next route bus is on its way.
Delays seem more frequent in the south
Waiting in pitch darkness for a customer care representative to pick up the ringing phone, I scan the bus stop timetable. Buses are meant to come by every 15 minutes.
I hear the click indicating that someone has picked up. But, to my disappointment, a machine urges me to call the following day.
The driver of the bus we were on, before it stalled, cordially asks us to get back up, while he tries to get in touch with a dispatcher at the Buġibba interchange.
“There’s been a backlog near Mellieħa, I’ve been told a bus will come by any minute,” he tells us.
Shrugging his shoulders, he adds: “We’re on the same boat you are. You have no idea how much we (bus drivers) have fought for you (passengers) for the past year.
“It seemed to be getting better at one point, but now look at this,” he says, pointing to the information display screen that is meant to inform passengers of the next stop.
“Sometimes they don’t come on... the ticket machines are faulty and the bell has not been working for the past three days,” he complains, tapping the nearest bell.
Since its launch exactly a year ago, Arriva has struggled to keep up with its promises of offering a revolutionary service. Despite a dreadful start, it eventually rerouted some buses while cutting down on the long “sightseeing” routes.
It reintroduced some old service routes, to the delight of daily commuters, and launched new ones that reached God-forsaken spots previously reachable only by car.
Ticket machines and weekly tickets sped up the commuting process but, on the other hand, longer routes and less frequent buses have stretched the duration of some trips.
Delays seem to be more frequent in the southern part of the island.
A 20-minute morning trip from Qormi to Valletta nowadays takes up to an hour, while getting through the Paola bottleneck is unbearable.
And air conditioning seems to stop working whenever a windowless bus is jam-packed, sometimes with up to 30 standing passengers.
Our stranded bus suddenly shudders and all lights went off. “That’s it, it’s dead,” the bus driver sighs.
The new service as a whole once seemed prematurely like a terminal case. But commuters are desperately hoping that its revival will continue.