Malta is a bit less than twice the size of Washington DC (proper, not all the suburbs). It is densely populated. It is fairly wealthy. Malta is one of the most wired countries in all of the EU and it shifted to the Euro with aplomb. Vast numbers of its young people go to university. It has thoughtful and decent medical care. It should have the most perfect public transportation in the world. Instead, it has a mess.
Public transportation is so "out of synch" for the quality of the country that I simply can't get over it. The bus system is an embarrassment to the country, and it is one of the major reasons why there is so much air pollution (over 30 times the EU limit!) and traffic congestion.
I've been appalled by the buses ever since I got here. I decided, however, to keep riding them to give them a fair run. But, now I've been here and on those buses for seven months.
1. They are inexpensive--.54 Euros (~75-80 cents US) for me to get from my home to university, a bit less if I just want to go a little ways. I think they are perhaps free or nearly so when you are retired.
2. They go everywhere, with a bit less service on Gozo.
3. If you want to go to Valletta there are a lot of choices.
4. Around 31 million people ride in a given year.
What's Not Good
1. If you are going to the university or Mater Dei hosptial from the St Paul's Bay/ Mellieha bus every hour, because the two most likely buses often run about 5 minutes apart from each other.
2. Because they don't have enough bus service at peak times, you need to allocate TWO hours to get 15 km if you have to get to a meeting. I needed to go the hospital for care and ended up waiting 1 hour and 40 minutes for a bus in St. Paul's Bay. Possibly I could have gotten one sooner if I'd walked to a more distant stop (which I normally do...but I wasn't feeling so hot). But one of the buses that would have taken me was full and so it blew by me and it would still have been full at the other stop. I waited another 40 minutes.
3. They do not appear at reliable times. This is not just in my area and it is not just a whining American--I hear this from the Maltese who take the bus. There is roughly a 20 minutes early/late gap. Hard to plan, hard to be on time.
4. The buses need replacement or at least shocks. Some are getting replaced. Check out the website of the bus service: http://www.maltatransport.com/en/ptd/passengertransport/routebus/
5. The buses often allow diesel fumes into the bus--I had to put up a plastic bag against the window, on one junker running between my area and Rabat.
6. Buses that are going to the hospital may have very high steps. Only a few buses are modern and can "kneel" for the elderly or handicapped or sick. In my view no bus going to Mater Dei hospital should be inaccessible to the infirm.
7. The buses have no heat or air conditioning (or none that I've noticed).
8. Some, BUT certainly NOT ALL, bus drivers are rude and abusive. I have also had wonderfully kind drivers, the ones who could help train their colleagues in customer service and quality.
9. While there is no smoking on the bus, the drivers routinely smoke.
10. If you don't know where a numbered bus is going, you have to stop the bus to ask. The driver will either be helpful or swear at you and pull away.
11. I don't think they use operations research to figure out when to put more or fewer buses on the road.
12. Buses are owned by the individual drivers, so there is almost no control over them.
Taxis are extremely expensive--I checked on the fare to Mater Dei and they wanted 20 Euros (30 US). I do take cabs, but I try to minimize it.
RESULTS: Malta roads are jam packed, it can take two hours to get from St Paul's Bay to the university by car if it has rained, depending on construction blockages and accidents. Most cars--like the US, only on a tiny space--have one person in them. There are no rail systems or subway systems. I think the extreme use of cars, other than a Maltese love for independence, is due to the unreliability of the bus service and possibly the need for more earlier and later buses.
Tourists use the buses a lot. Perhaps it is charming for two or three days. It is not charming thereafter.
What I wonder.
While, I don't understand why the system isn't nationalized, I will respect the drivers who love their buses and who want to hand down the work to their sons (I've never seen a female driver, but they may exist).
A) Raise prices to a Euro, so that drivers can afford the rising price of gas. If the government wants to subsidize users and not foreigners like me, that would be fine. This would also save the drivers a lot of time making change.
B) Ask the University to help them with operations research.
C) Change the rules on what buses can go to the hospital.
D) Turn on the heat and AC when it gets extreme--wind in the windows only helps a little.
E) Have extra buses from the Gozo ferry to university, especially in early morning from the ferry and late afternoon from the U. Perhaps there should be a dedicated one for Gozitan students going home for the weekend.
F) Have some smaller van type operations that cost more, but might be deployed as needed or on a highly regular bases between places. I don't know if "on demand" would make sense--5 Euros to go the hospital or get near where an appointment is going to be, would be no problem for me. It wouldn't have to be door to door. even.
G) Consider adding a monorail, train, subway.
H) Perhaps there could be more regular ferry service to more places, but I have little experience with this.
I) Introduce the concept of car pooling to the Maltese.
In American cities, where there is high density, all kinds of people--bankers, govt workers, teachers, sales people, iron workers, you name it--take public transportation. It is just what's done. Here, there is a tendency to think the bus is for students, the poor, pensioners, and tourists who won't be back. Better public transportation could move Malta in a better direction. I want the bus drivers to have a good living; I want Malta to be livable.
OK. I'm done with my soapbox. My apologies if I have, as the outsider, given offense.