The European Commission has issued a second warning to Malta over Arriva’s bus fare structure, under which non-residents are charged a higher price.The Commission had lodged a formal case last January accusing Malta of infringing EU rules.

However, the new government, elected in March, has not solved the issue and a new EU directive, forbidding discrimination on the buses, has since come into force.

The EU executive is now considering stepping up its action. Times of Malta is informed that last month it issued a notice to the government saying it was still insisting the current prices must be changed and was still awaiting a response.

A spokesman for the Commission said: “On March 1, new rules on passenger rights in bus and coach transport became applicable, including specific provisions prohibiting direct or indirect discrimination based on the nationality of customers.

“Taking into account the new context created by the entry into force of this regulation, a supplementary letter of formal notice was sent to Malta in November.”

Malta was given until the end of next month to find a solution or risk another warning from the Commission prior to a formal recommendation that the case be taken to the European Court.

When Arriva signed the deal with the government to take over the bus service in 2010, it retained the fares then charged to Maltese customers but those not in possession of a Maltese ID card were asked to pay higher prices.

The government of the time had insisted this was allowed under EU rules, as the ‘discrimination’ was based on residency rather than nationality – a provision allowed by the Treaties. Brussels, however, was not convinced and insisted the system should be changed.

New rules prohibit direct or indirect discrimination based on the nationality of customers

Following a thorough investigation – mainly prompted by Irish and British MEPs and supported by foreign residents in Malta – the Commission concluded that Arriva’s price structure amounted to indirect discrimination based on nationality of EU citizens, who had used their right to move and reside freely within member states.

According to the Commission, this discrimination refers particularly to tourists, non-resident job-seekers and non-resident house owners who reside either temporarily or irregularly in Malta or have not yet managed to acquire Maltese residency.

This latest development comes during an awkward time in the current discussions between the government and Arriva over the future of the company in Malta.

Although both sides have been discussing further development of routes and the replacement of bendy buses, it seems they are locked in a stalemate.

The Sunday Times of Malta reported that Arriva might be on the verge of pulling out while Paramount Coaches – a local private company – has confirmed that it is interested in taking over the service.

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