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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Some things never change

Malta's 60s-era buses keep chugging along says this AFP report:

To take the bus in the former British colony is to travel some four decades back in time, to when a pull-cord running the length of the cabin dings an actual bell to request the next stop. Malta's 1960s-era "bone rattlers" also have leather straps for those without seats to hang onto though the buses are rarely full nowadays in the Mediterranean island state of 400,000 people, where car ownership stands at around 50 percent.

The buses, most of them owned and lovingly maintained by small, family-run businesses, were built in Malta and run on imported Leyland, Ford and Dodge engines. "People respect us for keeping them maintained," said driver John Xerri, whose company owns four buses driven by himself and two of his sons, Joseph and Steven. Xerri, 58, dismissed fears that the older buses in the fleet of some 400 are more dangerous than the modern ones that have begun sharing the roads with the oldies in Malta, which lies just south of Sicily..

On the glass partition is an image of Saint Philip, the patron saint of Zebbug, the town where the bus was built in 1969. The tradition of naming buses after Catholic saints, queens, operas, battleships and so on began in the early 1930s, according to the website of Malta's Publication Transport Association. Beloved by tourists and many residents, the buses are disliked by modernists and considered unfriendly to the handicapped because of their high floors. Zammit, 53, scoffed at the critics, saying: "Our buses are more fuel efficient and easier to maintain. The new ones are full of electronics, and it can take months to repair them. We can change an engine in a day, or a gearbox in an hour."..

The buses face an uncertain future but joining the European Union in 2004, ironically, has helped to freeze the buses in time, says transport expert Maria Attard. "Before accession into the European Union there was a government effort to replace some of them ... mostly related to the safety and the emissions of these old buses," said Attard, a lecturer at the University of Malta. "But when membership came through there were issues with subsidising infrastructure. Today the government cannot subsidise, so the replacement (of buses) has stopped," she told AFP. "There is a great demand for these old buses to remain on the road from the aspect of tourism," Attard noted.

Fearful that the conservative government, re-elected here in March, might decide to scrap the old buses -- which feature on T-shirts, refrigerator magnets and the like in souvenir shops -- Zammit said: "They want to get rid of our culture and bring in other people's rubbish." Another driver, more optimistic perhaps, has a slogan on the back of his bus reading "Never Ending Story".

Blogger STAG said...

Some of the bus routes would have to change if you bring in any larger busses.

Is the bus system in Malta broken? If not, then why try to fix it? 

Wednesday, July 23, 2008 1:49:00 PM

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