The Valletta bus terminus is set to be doubled in size to handle 40 new routes that will be rolled out by Spanish operator Autobuses de Leon (Alsa) in the summer.

Alsa director and Malta Public Transport Service chairman Felipe Cosmen confirmed that talks are under way with Transport Malta and Mepa to increase the number of bus bays along St James Ditch (see above).

Bus chief Felipe Cosmen.Bus chief Felipe Cosmen.

“During negotiations with the government, we reached an agreement to increase the capacity of the terminus to facilitate the movement of buses and the passengers,” he told this newspaper.

Though details have not yet been announced, the plan is for some 15 bus bays to be added but in a different layout to the existing ones.

“Buses will not be reversing to go out of their bay. They will be parked parallel to the kerb. For this reason, traffic will flow in a clockwise direction along the length of the entire ditch,” sources at Transport Malta said.

Though the transport regulator has not yet submitted the final design, the building at the bottom part of the ditch (where the national lottery used to be drawn) will probably have to be demolished to make way.

Inaugurated in July 2011, when Arriva took over, the existing terminus was intentionally designed to cater for a smaller number of routes as part of a plan to spread out the network to a number of regional hubs. However, following a public outcry against the new routes, the government was forced to revert to the previous model. As a result, a number of temporary bays, which are still in use, were added at the old terminus around the Triton Fountain and the Phoenicia Hotel.

The new routes that will be rolled out in July are a key obligation of the 15-year concession awarded to the Spanish company following a call for expressions of interest issued last year.

In the run-up to the launch, the operator will be gradually increasing its fleet and phasing out the use of subcontracted vehicles.

Addressing the Maltese media, which last week was invited to tour Alsa’s facilities in Spain, Mr Cosmen said the company would be in a position to operate the existing network with its own resources by the end of this month. This would be possible with the addition of 32 low-floor buses, which, he said, would be delivered in the coming weeks. He was commenting in the wake of complaints that, on some routes, the service was not up to scratch as minibuses and seven-seater vehicles were being used.

Simulator for Malta

Barely three weeks into its Maltese venture, the new operator last month axed the services of the Unscheduled Bus Service, which had been supplying additional vehicles since August 2013. At the time, the private company had been subcontracted to replace the fleet of bendy buses which had been pulled off the roads for safety reasons.

Mr Cosmen insisted that, at the end of January, the UBS was only providing 30 vehicles and not 50 as reported. Acknowledging that the quality of the service on some routes had suffered, he said this was only a “temporary measure”.

Meanwhile, in Spain, the company showcased its driving simulator at an academy in Oviedo, in the Asturias region. Costing about €250,000, a similar simulator will be delivered to Malta next year as part of the company’s commitment to open an academy.

The operator is also set to upgrade the vehicle tracking system, through which it can take measures to minimise service disruptions caused by road closures, accidents or climatic conditions.