Some of Arriva’s King Long buses may be getting stuck on street corners but Transport Malta has given an assurance that they fit within the legal dimensions allowed on our roads... only just.
The Times carried out its own measurements and found out that both King Long’s regular model and the bendy buses being used in Malta fit exactly within the limit of 2.55 metres. In fact, they hardly have a millimetre to spare, excluding mirrors.
The width of the vehicles started grabbing the headlines as more motorists expressed their frustration that the buses were getting stuck in narrow streets, often creating severe traffic jams.
A Transport Malta spokesman pointed out that there were several vehicles of the same width and comparable size on the road, adding that, before the transport reform, buses of “exactly the same width” had been used.
The mirrors are not included in the width limit and their sizes vary, however, all mirrors are also within the legal limit.
What, then, is the problem? According to traffic expert Joe Micallef Stafrace, it’s to do with traffic planning.
“You can’t have two buses coming from opposite directions meeting in a narrow road,” he said.
One such place where this is happening is Mrabat Street in Sliema where buses going either way are constantly getting caught in a bottleneck, sometimes barely making it through.
The ministry keeps insisting that Mrabat Street had seen buses of the same size go through before the public transport reform but it conceded that the volume of bus traffic has now increased.
“Of course more buses go through Mrabat Street now than before July (when the reform was introduced) because the service now is more extensive, more frequent and with more travelling options”.
This street has been identified as one of “several congestion pinch points for which the authority is trying to find a solution”.
Dr Micallef Stafrace insists that a way must be found to avoid having two buses coming from opposing directions in the street at the same time. “Perhaps by amending the timetables in such a way that buses would not cross each other in narrow roads,” Dr Micallef Stafrace said. “Another possible solution is to have drivers communicate between them before approaching narrow roads, so they don’t get caught up”.
Transport Malta also rejects the idea that the size of the buses may be inappropriate. “They are just as big as cranes, haulage trucks, coaches, vans and as big as the newer buses from the old fleet. To suggest that all of these should be banned or somehow hammered into an ‘ideal’ shape is not realistic,” the spokesman said.
Similarly, a spokesman for Arriva said the company had a mix of bus sizes specifically suited for “local needs”.
All buses were “route tested” and being used appropriately for different roads.
“Remember the majority of the old buses were 11-metre buses – our specially designed nine-metre King Longs and hybrids are smaller than those previously used,” the spokesman said.
“We have an established route risk assessment process which drivers have received training on and were given handbooks detailing risks for all routes,” the spokesman added.
Drivers update the company via the control room about hazards they encounter on routes and issues they might face in particular streets such as indiscriminate parking.
“We report such issues to Transport Malta and discuss potential solutions with them as appropriate,” the spokesman said.