Saturday, 21 April 2012

Taking the Bus in Malta

Vintage Maltese Bus

The old yellow bus is as iconic to Malta as cowboy hats are to Texas.  Buses may not seem all that exciting, but they have been a recognizable feature of the Maltese roadways since the Second World War. The buses were individually owned and operated, similar to a taxi. Owners took great pride in their buses; designing, customizing, and creatively naming them.

These brightly colored buses may be found on every conceivable piece of touristy kitsch, but they’re no longer struggling up Malta’s steep and winding streets. Last year, the British company Arriva modernized Malta’s public transport system, introducing a sleek new fleet of aquamarine and cream-colored coaches.
Modern Arriva Articulated Bus

Not everyone was happy about the decision, as is to be expected. However, as a recent BBC article explained: “The old buses are polluting, unreliable and uneconomic. As a result, most people drive” (Simons). The new buses may be a bit plain, but they are consistent and user-friendly.  In a country known for its hot, humid summers with temperatures that frequently top 95ยบ, the new buses also proudly offer air-conditioning.

Every driver we met was friendly and helpful. We flagged down one driver to ask if his route would take us to the top of the hill in Mellieha. It didn’t, but he happily offered to get us “pretty close” which was the best news we could’ve received after a long day. We were also interested in seeing Calypso’s Cave on the northern island of Gozo. The first driver we approached offered to take us as close as he could to the actual site (about a mile away). However, he also stopped mid-route to point out which cliff we were aiming for, since he knew we wouldn’t be able to see it from the top of the hill.

Another plus for the Maltese public transportation system is that a pass is good on every bus for the particular island you’re on at the time (Malta or Gozo).  These passes can be purchased for anywhere from 2 hours to 90 days, and are very reasonably priced.

I'm grateful that the buses were so easy to use, because there’s no way I could drive on their roads. Based on the sounds of screaming transmissions and the scent of burnt breaks, no one else can either.

A Traditional Maltese Parking Spot

The cramped, twisted streets just add to Malta’s charm. They are a continual reminder that this country has a rich history and that its cities weren’t designed with drivers in mind. With that, you may as well tip back a glass of the local wine and let a professional handle taking you home.

Simons, Jake Wallis. "Malta's colourful vintage buses bow out." BBC News 23 Jun 2011.

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