With roughly 50 days to go before buses become free for all Maltese residents, long wait times and unreliability continue to plague the national public transport service.
That is what regular bus commuters told us on Tuesday, when we spoke to several of them at bus stops across Malta.
“I sometimes wait 30 minutes or more for a bus” Hailey, who uses the bus daily, said. “In the heat, it can get very tiring,” she said.
Hailey’s experience was echoed by many others, accentuating concerns that a public transportation service that is just weeks from being extended to all the population is already running at full capacity.
Bus fares will be scrapped for all residents as of October 1. Senior citizens and students already travel on the bus for free. The governing Labour Party says the move is intended to increase bus use and reduce cars on the road.
To use the bus, however, commuters need to be able to hop aboard one.
Full buses often pass-through bus stops without picking up new passengers, leaving disappointed people behind, frustrated and forced to wait for the next scheduled bus.
Elda told us she must often catch a taxi when this happens, in order not to miss meetings.
Patricia, a frequent bus commuter, said that her biggest problem is that a scheduled bus sometimes does not appear.
For Andre, known as il-Gadazz, the main problem with Maltese buses is reliability.
“The bus is great when you do not have to be somewhere at a particular time but can be nerve-racking if you have an important appointment,” Andre “il-Gadazz,” said, his son Roslan alongside him.
Long commute times were also mentioned as a problem.
Every day, Shirsha has to take two buses to get from Fgura to Naxxar. It takes her an hour to get to her destination on a good day, but often takes much longer with traffic.
Long traffic jams mean that Chloe, an MCAST student, often finds it more efficient to get off the bus in Fgura walk to another bus stop further down the road and catch another bus, rather than remain seated on the bus heading to campus.
Eileen recalled the traditional yellow buses that served Maltese until 2008.
We have gone backwards since that time, she argued, saying that especially during rush hour buses are late. “It's often better to walk,” she said.
Others praised the bus service and said it was efficient enough for them. “Buses are always on time,” Rahun said before cutting the interview short to get on his route. Ahmed, who uses the bus to get to work and rarely has issues, said the same.
The people interviewed were generally satisfied with the buses themselves, all pointing out to the air-conditioning and wi-fi service onboard.
“With air-conditioning, I’m comfortable on the bus,” George Abela said, as he reminded us not to confuse him with the former president of Malta.
Hailey also couldn’t complain about the buses themselves, saying that she enjoys the experience and listens to her music during her commute.
Bus stops however were described as dirty by Eva, a Czech tourist visiting Malta with her family. A lack of bus shelters also made it difficult to wait for the bus in Malta’s summer heat, she noted.
Leaky air conditions on some buses were one problem, flagged by Andre and Shirsha. This seems to make some seats unusable: an especially present annoyance when buses appear to be running at capacity.