Thousands of bus passengers could face travel disruption and delays today following a decision to temporarily pull all 68 Arriva bendy buses off the roads and replace them with subcontracted vehicles.
The decision was taken by the Transport Ministry yesterday afternoon after the third fire on an articulated bus in as many days.
Bendy buses carry more than four in 10 public transport users, creating a logistical nightmare to have them replaced.
With a capacity of 143 passengers, they can carry up to 9,724 passengers at a time, while the remaining 217 buses have a total capacity of 13,551 passengers.
As a result, Transport Malta yesterday had to come up with an overnight solution in an effort to provide an adequate service, especially on key routes like Ċirkewwa, Buġibba and Sliema, where bendy buses are deemed crucial.
Decision was taken after third fire in as many days
The Transport Authority said it had reached an agreement with the Unscheduled Bus Service to provide vehicles alongside public transport operator Arriva. The extra cost will be covered by Arriva.
This arrangement harks back to the early days of Arriva in Malta, when the company was short of buses and drivers in the summer of 2011.
The latest fire occurred in Xemxija at 12.35pm yesterday when passengers had to be evacuated after the engine of a bendy bus started billowing smoke and then caught fire.
On Sunday, two more articulated buses caught fire, one in Marsa that was completely destroyed and another in Mellieħa.
The decision to suspend bendy buses from service was taken during an urgent meeting, held in the wake of the Xemxija incident, between senior Arriva officials, Transport Minister Joe Mizzi and Transport Malta chairman James Piscopo.
The ministry said they unanimously agreed to appoint an internationally renowned and independent institution to certify the safety of bendy buses. This process will be carried out regardless of the certifications which Arriva is bound to produce.
Meanwhile, the investigation into the cause or causes of last Sunday’s incidents will go ahead. Six other less serious cases were reported since the start of the year.
Apart from a magisterial inquiry and internal probe carried out by Arriva, the Transport Ministry on Monday appointed a commission of experts who have been given a week to draw up a report.
Up to yesterday’s incident Arriva was insisting that all of its vehicles were safe and that the police were not ruling out arson.
The General Workers’ Union, which represents drivers, welcomed the decision, saying the position adopted by the Government was along the same lines as a statement issued by the union earlier in the day.
The GWU had urged Arriva to withdraw all articulated buses from the roads until investigations were concluded and any necessary modifications to the engines carried out.
It said the safety of its members and of the public was of utmost importance. At one point it also threatened to issue directives if Arriva did not acquiesce to its demands.
Students’ organisation Pulse said that with the start of the academic year looming it was of utmost importance that students and their parents could rely on an efficient public transport system.
Pulse said that the decision to remove bendy buses would help restore the public’s confidence and guarantee that all necessary precautions were being taken.
But it urged the authorities to take all measures to guarantee an adequate service, especially for Gozitan students.
Arriva said last night it would do its best to ensure the continuity of service on all routes and limit disruption.
It advised commuters that subcontracted vehicles to replace the bendy buses will not feature its standard bus livery and their drivers will not be able to sell tickets.
Customers should therefore buy their tickets from ticket machines, street sellers or Arriva ticket booths.
The following routes will be operated by the subcontractor: 55/63, 109, 110, 117/118/119/ 135, 120, 136, 201, 202/203, 204/206/ 210, 205, 209/213, 226, X1, X2/X3, X4/X5/X7.
The transport operator said it “continues to collaborate with the Ministry and the regulating authority in order to achieve a public transportation system that meets legitimate passenger expectations and that is aligned with Government objectives”.
More information at www.arriva.com.mt, by phoning Arriva on 2122 2000 or email@example.com
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