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Malta’s historical buses to be phased out

Up to some months ago, it was still an on-going issue in Malta: should the old, chugging public transport charabancs of yesteryear be replaced with the new, slim-line buses purposely built for the Maltese road?

Well, the government has finally ruled: only one fourth of the present fleet of 508 buses meets the requirements stipulated by the reformed public transport system. The rest of the buses - which are considered by the Maltese as a nuisance and a health hazard – will be placed in a museum or recycled.

Presently, the Maltese bus fleet is made up of many new, modern coaches, but also of an amazing selection of old buses that go back to Pre-World War II days. Car lovers and bus enthusiasts who happen to visit Malta often refuse to believe their eyes when they see them on the road for the first time.

Tourists and foreigners simply love them, especially the British since most of the buses were made in the UK.

Taking a ride on them is an experience they would never have thought possible in their lifetime. The traditional Maltese bus is a treasure trove of old style and tradition. Religious icons and slogans greet you as you go in, the windows rattle, the seats are hard and unrelenting, the "stop" lever still made of leather coil. An air of friendliness permeates the whole trip. The driver may be wearing a sort of uniform and he may not, particularly in summer when shorts are a prerequisite, particularly if you happen to be too near the roaring, multiple-revamped engine that never stops.

Though extremely efficient and cheap, the Maltese public transport system can still seem complicated to the new user, but that should not worry you unduly. The driver and your fellow travellers won't have a problem telling you where and when to descend, even where and when to take the bus back to Valletta, where all the buses go.

The traditional Maltese bus may be in the throes of death as a result of the current modernisation project, but tour services on typical Maltese traditional buses, painted in the tradition of the epoch, have become a popular choice with visitors who, on them, can at least catch the spirit of that vanishing breed of old honkers.

This will, however, soon become something of yesteryear.

The government has already unveiled the specifications for the new buses and published the tender documents.

The new buses cannot be more than 15 years old. On the first day of the new system, a maximum of 70 per cent of the buses have to have low emissions (Euro III and Euro IV).

The new buses will also have to be equipped with a first aid box, CCTV systems and electronic displays of the destination both at the front and back. Presently, bus drivers place a small board with the number on a placard on the front and back of the bus to show their destination.

Well, it seems like another part of the history of the Maltese Islands - which dates back to the megalithic temples built in 6,000BC - will be laid to rest.

We just hope that a specific museum is built to house the old buses, which have played an important part in the life of the Maltese since the days preceding WWII.

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Malta Travel Guide (http://www.101Malta.com) 101 Things To Do In Malta takes an honest look at the many, many things you can do whilst in Malta and Gozo, ranging from the adventurous to the relaxing and from the culinary to the cultural.</i></p>

About the Author

Luciano Borg is Project Manager at Untangled Media Ltd. Before joining UML, he spent 17 years working for English Language Newspapers in Malta, where he worked as a reporter, journalist, designer and night-editor.

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