Chaos reigned at the Valletta bus terminus this morning as the tallinja card debut flopped, with people waiting in the queue to top up their card for more than two hours and people fainting with the heat. Tempers flared and the police had occasionally to intervene.

The incidents coincided with the anniversary, four years ago today, of the introduction of the Arriva bus service. The service is now provided by Malta Public Transport, a company owned by Autobuses de Leon of Spain.

Several frustrated commuters told Times of Malta that their cards, even though topped up did not work and they still had to pay €2 fare.

Drivers said that this the system was not working properly and as a result there was a lot of time wasted and bus trips were taking longer.

“I arrived at the terminus 50 minutes late because I had to explain to people that they still had to pay although they had a card because it was not working properly,” a driver said.

A crowd of more than a hundred people queued at the terminus to register for their card or to top it up. Some claimed to have been there since 6am.

Times of Malta  spent two hours and the queue moved a snail pace – as only one Malta Public Transport official was trying to meet the demands of the crowd.

Many who spoke to Times of Malta said that the previous system – where they paid €1.50 for a day was much more efficient.

A number of people who up to yesterday were relieved to have received their bus card on time, found today that they could not use it.Readers said that despite topping up their cards, they were still rejected by the machines installed on the buses, and they had to pay the new, higher fares.

"I topped my card with 30Eur yesterday evening (site was really slow). This morning I was unable to use it because of a ‘Problem with Card’" a reader said.

"I had to pay the normal bus fare. I use the bus to/from work every day Mon-Fri meaning I would need to fork out 16Eur per week unless fixed," he said.

Another reader said her card also did not work. The driver tried it himself, and then waved her in without asking for a fare. She said several passengers had the same experience.

A reader also showed Times of Malta the bus card he received yesterday - It had no picture and no name. He questioned whether such cards could give rise to abuse, as the cards are not supposed to be transferable.

"In the letter it (MPT) says the photo was not of good enough quality. The photo was taken from my ID card by the person at Mater Dei (the kiosk where applications for bus cards can be made). It also said the will solve the issues with the photo in the coming weeks and they will contact me should they need a replacement. It does not say why there was no name," a reader said.

Many people complained that they had not received the bus card before its debut today.

Malta Public Transport yesterday announced that elderly people, children under 10 and disabled commuters who still don’t have the card will not be charged the dearer rates until Sunday. 

Many readers said  they had been unable to top it up using pre-paid vouchers or through Maltapost branches, due to various technical problems.

From today, the adult fare is €2 for a two-hour ticket instead of €1.50 for a day ticket. But those in possession of the Tallinja card will only be charged €0.75 for a two-hour trip and there will be no further charge for the rest of the month after they spend €26. Special prices apply for the elderly, students, children and the disabled. Several questioned whether such cards could give rise to abuse, as the cards are not supposed to be transferable.

In total, the bus company has received about 128,000 applications for the card since its launch on April 26. A spokesman had said those who applied for it by June 19 – more than 100,000 – would receive it by yesterday.

Arrangements were in fact made for Malta Post to make a second delivery yesterday afternoon and many of those who had earlier complained of not receiving the card it was delivered in the second batch.

There were others, though, who were left empty-handed. “I applied for my Tallinja card on Sunday, April 26, but I have not received it,” one commuter said after 6pm.

Many questioned why the delivery had not been made on a first-come-first-served basis.

Criticism was also levelled at the dedicated Tallinja helpline, as callers could not get through. 

The bus company yesterday reiterated that off-the-shelf products would be available for tourists, who cannot apply for a bus card as it requires a Maltese address.

Tourists will be able to buy seven-day unlimited tickets or a batch of 12 single-journey tickets at €1.25 per trip, which would be cheaper than the standard two-hour tickets sold at €2.

However, no date was given for when these products would be on sale.

BUS COMPANY GENERALLY SATISFIED

Malta Public Transport  said thousands of passengers had used their tallinja card today. This, it said, was considered to be a positive change in the way bus users pay for their ticket in Malta.

"Malta Public Transport said that overall, the system is working, and it is generally satisfied with the changeover process which involved the installation of 300 new ticketing machines and vehicle tracking systems on all buses, and the training of over 800 drivers with the new systems and fare structure. New specialised software was installed which was customised to take into consideration the local requirements.

"As with any transition, it is expected to experience some minor technical problems, especially in such a major change. However the company is confident that these will be resolved quickly," MPT said.

"A small number of instances were in fact reported. In such cases, drivers have been briefed to allow the passengers to board for free. However the company has received some complaints where passengers may have still been charged the fare. Malta Public Transport apologised for this inconvenience, and assured the public that all these tickets will be refunded."

The company said it has increased the amount of call centre personnel for the next few days to deal with any enquiries that may be made.

It also said that 'some' technical problems that were reported with some customers not being able to top up their card this morning have been resolved.

"Due to the quality of some photos that were taken at registration stage, the company has issued some temporary cards which can be used normally. The cardholders will be contacted by Malta Public Transport to organise a free replacement of this card."

It thanked the public for their cooperation in this transition and once again apologised for any inconvenience that this changeover may have caused.

TRANSPORT MALTA MONITORING SITUATION

Transport Malta said in a statement this evening it has been closely monitoring today’s launch of the new card system. It said it was aware of numerous reports on operational issues faced by commuters, particularly in Valletta.

Transport Malta said it was satisfied that about 140,000 people actively responded to the change and enrolled for bus card issued by the bus operator.

Such an overwhelming change brought about a number of challenges that needed to be addressed immediately by the operator to ensure improvement in the service.

The operator, it said, was asked to deploy more customer care officers primarily in Valletta to provide assistance in the topping of cards and answer general queries. TM also asked the operator to speed up the processing of the new applications to ensure these were received by respective applicants in the shortest time possible.

It said it would continue to be vigilant and monitor the situation relentlessly and was confident that the desired objectives of the off-the-bus ticketing system could be achieved.

It deplored without any reservation the incident involving the Hungarian citizen in Valletta this morning and appealed to the public to avoid confrontation.

It also appealed to the public to use online tools available for topping up and for the application of the card to avoid queuing and congestion at the points of sale, primarily in Valletta.

Malta Public Transport said later that additional personnel will be deployed as from tomorrow to handle the sudden increase in registrations for the card. A record 7,500 registrations were processed in the last 24 hours.

In addition, a dedicated kiosk was set up in the “Biskuttin” area in Valletta for registration so that the main kiosk near Bay 1 in the Valletta Terminal would remain available for topping up and general information.

The company also increased the amount of call centre personnel for the next few days to deal with enquiries.

It encouraged the public to use its website www.tallinja.com to register for the card.

It thanked passengers and employees for their cooperation today and said it was focusing continuously on improving the service.

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