Tag Archives: Mdina Malta

My Holidays in Malta – Privatisation and The Buses

Malta Buses

“We are determined to deliver the highest quality service possible in Malta. Customers and their experiences are at the heart of our service. All our customers are important and no effort will be spared to ensure that all of the services we are trusted to deliver will be provided.” – Malta Public Transport

I knew that some things would have changed since my last visit in 1997 and the first and most obvious thing was the buses because up until 2011 Malta had a wonderful bus service with a fleet of vehicles mostly imported from the UK, privately owned, lovingly maintained, customized and painted in a distinctive orange livery with gleaming chrome decoration that required sunglasses just to look at them.

Even in the late 1990s these old buses with their growling engines and banging gear boxes were, admittedly, beginning to creak with age and by 2011 the majority didn’t meet EU standards on carbon emissions and their fate was sealed a thousand miles away in Brussels and the upgrade could scarcely have been more undignified.

Sometimes they weren’t even that safe…

Malta Bus Accident 1978

Under the old system each bus was owned by its driver, who would decorate it himself, giving each its own personality and charm. Some buses had been passed down from father to son, or even been hand built by the family that owned them.

The service was crudely privatised which meant that the Maltese Government no longer had to pay expensive subsidies (this is a lot like the sad demise of the old Island Ferry service story) and was taken over by a British private sector company called Aviva whose modern fleet replaced Malta’s beautiful vintage buses which now languish, awaiting rescue in storage somewhere at Valletta harbour.

Gozo Ferry (2)

The Perils of Privatisation…

By all accounts the transfer was chaotic and farcical, three hundred buses were reduced to one hundred and fifty, the old bus drivers either refused to work for Aviva and didn’t turn up for work on the first day or couldn’t be employed because many of them didn’t have driving licences, the new routes  were inefficient and the buses too big for the narrow Maltese streets.  Articulated ‘bendy’ buses rejected by London were sent to Malta and three of these caught fire because the heat melted the rubber bendy bit in the middle.

The Company name of Arriva is Italian for ‘arriving’ (a language that many Maltese speak due to the close proximity), soon after privatisation it was quickly nicknamed Aspetta  – ‘waiting’.

“Unfortunately, the new designed routes take you half way around Malta in order to save money on buses – that is the problem when an accountant comes in with an Excel sheet and dictates with no real knowledge of what the people need, want or require.” – Malta Tourism Authority (2013)

Buses of Malta postcard

This doesn’t surprise me at all.  I have worked for the private sector trying to provide public service and it rarely ever works on account of the public sector ethos of service and private sector profit being completely incompatible.  Based on my experience I think I am well qualified to say that privatisation never results in improvement despite all of the extravagant promises.

It was an operational and financial disaster and by December 2013 Arriva had run up losses of over €50 million.  The contract was terminated by agreement and the service reverted to public control as Malta Public Transport. The Government didn’t really want the burden of the service however so in January 2015 it awarded a new contract to Autobuses Urbanos de León who appear to have picked up where Aviva left off .

This reminded me of when I worked for a company called Cory Environmental  in refuse collection services.  One man I worked with thought he had a brilliant solution and produced work schedules in alphabetical order!  All the roads beginning with A-F on Monday, G-K on Tuesday and so on throughout the week, it didn’t occur to him that this meant driving hundreds of unnecessary miles and wasting hundreds of pounds worth of diesel.  I seem to remember that he had only a very short career in waste management.  Rather like the tendering team at Arriva who won the Malta contract I imagine!

Malta Bus

 

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Malta, More Doors and Windows

Malta Mdina WindowIMG_8726Malta Knockers

My Holidays in Malta, Chocolate Cake and Carriages in Mdina

Mdina 1997 & 2017

I am fairly certain that in 1997 there was a direct bus service from Mellieha to Mdina but this is not so today so we had to compete for space on a bus to Buggiba and then wait for a transfer to our destination.

In 1997 the bus dropped us off at the main gate where there was a flotilla of horse drawn carriages called Karrozzins with pushy drivers waiting to ambush people as they stepped into the terminus and I am not sure how this happened but almost immediately we were sitting in the carriage and taking an unnecessary tour of the city and my wallet was a few Maltese Pounds lighter.  Unnecessary because it is only a small place and it is much nicer to investigate it on foot anyway which is what we did as soon as the trip was over.

Twenty years later in 2017 after a couple of tedious waits and changes and a long and circuitous route we eventually arrived and the first thing that struck me was that in twenty years there has been a lot of restoration in Mdina.  The once crumbling walls have been repaired and the untidy concrete streets of hasty post war repairs have all been repaved.  I preferred it the old way because it seems to me that the Maltese have managed to transform this wonderful place into a sort of Disney World EPCOT interpretation.

Mdina pre restoration.Mdina Malta

Most of the guide books recommend a visit to Fontanella Tea Rooms for a cake and a coffee stop so we found it and made our way to the first floor terrace.  We did this twenty years ago but now we were not surprised to find that this place had also had a very extensive makeover.

I am never very keen on wasting money on things like horse and trap rides but Molly caught me in a weak moment and having convinced myself that a 10% reduction on an advertised rate was a bargain I was persuaded to agree to reprise a ride in a Karrozzin and we had an enjoyable twenty minute clip-clop ride through the ancient city.

Mdina

Mdina is quite small and we soon found ourselves going down the same streets as just an hour or so ago so we headed for the main gate exit and returned to the bus stop.  It was ten to three and the bus was scheduled for five past.  Ten past came and went, twenty past, half past, I found an inspector who suggested that it might be stuck in traffic (bus inspector’s first excuse every time I expect) and then when one did turn up it turned its destination light off and replaced it with ‘not in service’. 

Malta now has a seriously bad bus service so we broke a golden holiday rule and took an expensive taxi ride to Mosta.  Don’t ask me how much it was because I will surely start to weep!

Fontanella

The next stop was at Mosta, for no better reason than to visit the Cathedral which was built in the nineteenth century and has a dome that is among the largest in the World – in fact (and you do have to be careful about these sort of facts of course) it is the third largest in Europe and the ninth largest in the World.  You can believe that or believe it not but the most remarkable thing about the Mosta Dome is the miracle of the unexploded bomb.

During the Second-World-War it is claimed that Malta was the most heavily bombed place in the World and on April 9th 1942, during an afternoon air-raid, a Luftwaffe bomb pierced the dome (two others bounced off) and fell among a congregation of more than three hundred people attending early evening mass. It did not explode. Apparently it rolled down the aisle and into the street outside so it was a good job that the doors were open!

Mosta The Miracle of the Bomb

I suspect that that part of the story may not be completely accurate and has been embellished and corrupted by the passing of time but this is the way they like to tell it.  I am sceptical if only for the reason that with a bomb crashing through the roof I imagine that there would have been quite a lot of panic and congestion in the aisle as people rushed for the door.  There would have been a mad dash and a tangle of bodies that would make modern day bus stop queues look like a Royal Garden Party and the bomb would be most unlikely to get through.

One version of this event states that when a bomb disposal squad opened the device it was found to be filled with sand instead of explosives and contained a note saying “greetings from Plzeň” from the workers at Škoda Works in the German-occupied Czechoslovakia who had allegedly sabotaged its production.

A nice story but not necessarily true.

Anyway, not much has changed except that the statue outside used to be sandstone and is now graphite and the statue’s halo used to be graphite and now it is sandstone.

Mostar church

Malta 2017, Preview Pictures

Malta Mellihea

I went to Malta last month, here are some post preview pictures…

Malta SunsetMalta Sunset The Red Tower

Malta, Door Knobs and Knockers

Malta Door Knocker 01Malta Door Knocker 02

Knobs and Knockers…

This reminded me of a friend that I once worked with.  She was restoring a Welsh dresser and using the work internet service she searched on knobs and knockers.  She got some very unexpected results and had a lot of explaining to do to the IT department!

Malta, Postcards

Malta Map PostcardLuzzu Boat MaltaMdina MaltaBuses of Malta postcardValletta Malta postcardMellieha Malta PostcardValletta Malta

Malta, Mosta and the Miracle of the Bomb

Mdina Street

Mdina, Malta…

Leaving the unfortunate Fontanella Tea Rooms we were pleased to see that the weather was back to its spectacular best so we walked around the streets some more and made our way to the biggest building in Mdina, St Paul’s Cathedral standing erect and proud next to a section of the old city ramparts.

It was an interesting if not especially memorable Cathedral and after a short while we returned to the honey coloured streets and resumed our search for an alternative refreshment stop.  This didn’t take long and we found a tea room in a secluded courtyard which was no way near as busy as Fontanella but we soon found out that this was on account of the cakes not being anywhere near as good.

Mdina is quite small and we soon found ourselves going down the same streets as just an hour or so ago so we headed for the main gate exit and returned to the bus stop.  It was ten to three and the bus was scheduled for five past.  Ten past came and went, twenty past, half past, I found an inspector who suggested that it might be stuck in traffic (bus inspector’s first excuse every time I expect) and then when one did turn up it turned its destination light off and replaced it with ‘not in service’.  Malta now has a seriously bad bus service so we broke a golden holiday rule and together with another equally frustrated couple reluctantly agreed to take a taxi.

Mosta Malta

Mosta Church and the Miracle of the Bomb…

The next stop was at Mosta, for no better reason than to visit the Cathedral which was built in the nineteenth century and has a dome that is among the largest in the World – in fact (and you do have to be careful about these sort of facts of course) it is the third largest in Europe and the ninth largest in the World.  You can believe that or believe it not but the most remarkable thing about the Mosta Dome is the miracle of the unexploded bomb.

During the Second-World-War it is claimed that Malta was the most heavily bombed place in the World and on April 9th 1942, during an afternoon air-raid, a Luftwaffe bomb pierced the dome (two others bounced off) and fell among a congregation of more than three hundred people attending early evening mass. It did not explode. Apparently it rolled down the aisle and into the street outside so it was a good job that the doors were open!

I suspect that that part of the story may not be completely accurate and has been embellished and corrupted by the passing of time but this is the way they like to tell it.  I am sceptical if only for the reason that with a bomb crashing through the roof I imagine that there would have been quite a lot of panic and congestion in the aisle as people rushed for the door.  There would have been a mad dash and a tangle of bodies that would make modern day bus stop queues look like a Royal Garden Party and the bomb would be most unlikely to get through.

One version of this event states that when a bomb disposal squad opened the device it was found to be filled with sand instead of explosives and contained a note saying “greetings from Plzeň” from the workers at Škoda Works in the German-occupied Czechoslovakia who had allegedly sabotaged its production.

A nice story but not necessarily true.

Mosta The Miracle of the Bomb

To be frank there is nothing else to see in Mosta so we made our way to the bus stop and prepared for another fight to get onto the bus.  Sure enough there were far more people waiting than there could possibly be available seats but eventually it arrived and somehow the driver managed to squeeze us all on board.

This was a very uncomfortable journey and it was about now that I thought that it might be appropriate to make alternative arrangements for the journey back to the airport the next day.  I might be adventurous but I am not completely reckless and was not prepared to take the risk that the bus wouldn’t turn up or if it did that it would be full and wouldn’t stop or that I might lose my luggage on a chaotic journey.  Back at the hotel I booked a taxi which was expensive at €30 (ten times as expensive as the bus) but was worth it for peace of mind.

It was the last evening so we took a walk to the beach, sat on the balcony and played cards and then just for a change went to our favourite restaurant in Malta.  Later we went to the Limelight Lounge again to snigger at the entertainment and then we returned to the room to pack.

I had enjoyed the stay in Malta.  Kim had enjoyed the stay in Malta.  She said that she loved Malta and would gladly return.  More Malta stories coming up then…

Limelight Lounge Mellieha Bay Hotel