Cost was never really the main deterrent for the public to hop on a bus

The Skinny | No 109 – Free Public Transport for All!

What are we skinning? The Budget 2022 measure that aims to introduce free public transport for all Maltese residents, starting from October 2022.

Why are we skinning it? Because public transport has been one of those insurmountable chimeras that has defeated successive governments over the generations, but ticket price was never ever quoted by anyone as the key problem.

But aren’t you glad that the government is doing *something* to encourage people to take the bus? Oh sure. Just like I’m glad we still have running water and – occasionally – uninterrupted electrical power (barring heatwaves and downpours, both of which are sadly found in abundance on this beleaguered Mediterranean rock).

So you’re saying this is something that we should have taken for granted since Independence? It would have been nice, certainly.

A lot of things would have been nice, but the world don’t work that way. That’s a truism that undercuts and enables a lot of institutional laziness.

How do you mean? Of course there are certain realities that we always have to contend with. But deciding when to wrestle with the status quo and when to simply let it carry on as usual is exactly that – a choice, and always a choice.

But how is this relevant to the public transport issue? It applies to it in many ways, actually. The assumption that it can only be tweaked, and never structurally improved, is one. Another is the accepted belief that the Maltese will always opt for their private car no matter what.

All the more reason why any incentive at all should be welcomed. Sure, but again – the reason why taking the bus in Malta was never a popular choice has more to do with reliability of service, waiting times and strange roundabout routes… never ticket price.

You can’t be so literal though. What do you mean by that?

I’m sure this is part of a wider strategy. Shining a spotlight on the service, so as to have a knock-on effect on use?

Yes. And come on, you know the Maltese love free stuff. This is true. But let’s also consider that the service is already free for 80,000 people.

Oh? Yes. Everyone aged between 14 and 20 and students from 21 and over, along with those over 70 and people with disabilities, already have free access to public transport

That’s a very cool socialist measure. Extending it to everyone seems like a logical step forward. It’s just a shame that this whole ‘free buses’ thing will not extend to tourists.

Wait, what?! Yeah… you’ll need to have a valid Tal-Linja card to use it, which means the free service will be limited to just citizens of Malta and Gozo.

Hello rent-a-cars clogging up the streets all summer! Yep. The summer IS magic, after all.

Do say: “Any effort to incentivise public transport use is to be commended, but we should also be sensitive to the knee-jerk criticism that cost was never really the main deterrent for the general population to hop on a bus, and work our way back from there.”

Don’t say: “Riding the bus for free has been an aspirational goal for me ever since I was a little kid. Said no one, ever.”