An Arriva bendy bus was destroyed by flames early yesterday morning and there was a small fire in another one later, raising the number of such incidents to seven this year.
The bendy bus burst into flames at 12.45am when it was near the Maltapost head office in Marsa, leaving a charred husk as the fire raged for more than an hour.
The heat from the blaze was so intense it damaged nine postal vehicles parked nearby, with the damage to them estimated to cost €30,000.
Luckily, the driver, who was the only person on the vehicle, had stopped the bus and got off before it was engulfed in flames.
Second fire in one day
The accelerator pedal malfunctioned, so he decided to pull over, according to an Arriva employee who did not wish to be named.
“As soon as he got off, the bus caught fire,” he said.
The vehicle was off service and en route to the Marsa bus depot at the end of a routine night shift. Arriva did not comment on the incident and did not reply to questions sent by this newspaper.
The police are investigating the fire, which caused an immediate reaction online, particularly as it is reminiscent of similar problems experienced by Arriva in the UK and the Netherlands, especially with bendy buses.
But as the comments rolled in online, another bus caught fire late yesterday afternoon.
This second incident was contained and, in fact, the fire was put out by the driver using an onboard extinguisher.
Drivers who spoke to Times of Malta said the incidents made them feel uneasy. “This [sort of incident] happened before but never as bad as this [the Marsa fire]. Honestly, it makes me scared to drive buses,” one said.
Commuters expressed similar concerns. “This news makes me reluctant to get on board. What if it happens while I’m on board? I’ll think twice next time I need to get on a bus,” Silvio Carabott said as he waited for a ride home at the Valletta terminal.
Transport Minister Joe Mizzi said he would wait until the police investigations were concluded before deciding what action to take.
“Arriva is a private operator, so there is only so much we can do at this point.
“The ministry is responsible for ensuring that these vehicles are covered by VRT and road safety tests, which they should have been,” Mr Mizzi said, insisting that serious measures would be taken if any evidence of negligence was found.
“I will be keeping a close eye on this issue,” he added.
Bendy bus routes were suspended across London in 2004 after three buses caught fire in the space of a few weeks.
The entire London fleet of 120 bendy buses were subsequently fitted with new fire suppression equipment and flame retardant interiors.
London mayor Boris Johnston later described bendy buses as “beached whales” during the 2011 Conservative Party conference.
“Now they clog up the streets of Malta, I’m happy to say,” Mr Johnston had jokingly remarked, sparking outrage on social media and triggering a defensive response from then transport minister Austin Gatt.
The first bus fire this year was reported in March when the engine compartment of a fully loaded bus started smoking during a service route in Żejtun. A 16-year-old boy was treated for burns and smoke inhalation.
The Żejtun fire was followed by another four, including one in which several passengers had to be evacuated from a bus in Spinola last month.
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