Mizzi insists new bus routes ‘are what the public had asked for’

Citing survey results and Transport Malta statistics, shadow minister Marthese claims that  ‘practically every regular bus commuter’ unhappy with current service 

Transport minister Joe Mizzi and shadow transport minister Marthese Portelli on Reporter
Transport minister Joe Mizzi and shadow transport minister Marthese Portelli on Reporter

Changes to the bus routes introduced towards the end of 2015 “are what the public had asked for”, transport minister Joe Mizzi insisted.

“The new routes are the end result of a public consultation process,” Mizzi said on Monday night’s edition of Reporter. “”Unlike the previous administration, this government constantly consults with the public, and indeed we are listening to their complaints about the new routes, and will start updating them from 6 March.”

He defended criticism of the subsidy – an annual €29.2 million over a 15 year period– paid to Spanish bus operators Autobuses de Leon, arguing that the previous operators Arriva had demanded €45 million to run the current route system.

Practically every regular commuter unhappy with service – Portelli

However, shadow transport minister Marthese Portelli claimed that practically every regular commuter has been left wanting, since the new routes were introduced in December.

She cited a recent MaltaToday survey in which 14% of respondents voiced concern about buses, and official statistics that showed that 65,000 people had topped up their tallinja card in October by €10 to benefit from a scheme.

“These 65,000 people are commuters who use public transport on a regular basis, and amount to 15% of the public,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the percentage tallies so closely to the survey’s figures, but rather indicates that practically everyone who uses the bus on a regular basis is not satisfied with the level of service.”

The Opposition MP accused Joe Mizzi of allowing operator Autobuses de Leon – which she constantly referred to as “the Spaniards” – to dicate their own terms in the contract that was finally published last week.

“The contract is very flexible and appears to have been manipulated according to the operator’s demands,” she said.

She said that the contract incentivises Autobuses to needlessly lengthen the routes, with its annual subsidy varying according to the amount of kilometres travelled in a year.

“Can anybody explain to me the point of introducing a route (Route 74) that travels past Blue Grotto and Hagar Qim at 5:45 am in the morning before arriving at the centre of Zurrieq?” she questioned.

Portelli heavily criticised the subsidy granted to Autobuses, at one point saying that the public have to fork out “the money granted by government in the Gaffarena expropriation, Australia Hall and Café Premier scandals four times over every year”.

“No wonder the Spaniards [sic] are so happy; they struck oil in Malta,” she said, adding that its 15-year contract is equivalent to forcing each family to pay €3,000 for the service.

Malta Public Transport responding to commuter complaints – Mizzi

Mizzi insisted that Malta Public Transport (MPT) is responding to bus commuter complaints relayed to it by Transport Malta.

Indeed, he refused to entertain a possible future scenario – put forward by Saviour Balzan - in which MPT might refuse to meet Transport Malta’s suggestions.

“They [MPT] have already proved that they are willing to invest in the bus service, and have indeed decided to bring in 33 new buses in June, despite not being contractually obliged to do so,” he said.

During the debate, he Joe Mizzi constantly harked back to the problems within the public transport system that he had inherited.

“One has to take into consideration where I had to start off – with a failed bus company in Arriva that was drowning in around €100 million debt, bendy buses catching fire, and a public that had lost faith in the public transport system,” he said.

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