Public Transport History
Before buses were even seen on our roads, the main transport was the Malta Railway, some lorries and cabs driven by horses. Our primitive buses commenced service in 1905. Since 1905 the introduction of the buses affected adversely the Malta Railway. Buses became more popular and the train very expensive to run. Thus, on 31st March 1931, the train performed the last services from Rabat to Valletta. One can see remains of this train in one of our museums.
In 1905 a certain Mr Spiteri was granted the permission to import buses from UK to run between Valletta and St. Andrew because, as you probably know, Malta was a military and naval base and transport was essential. At first he imported six Thornycroft buses from UK to run between Valletta and St. Andrews. Later another twenty seven seater single deckers and thirty six seaters Thornycroft double deckers started running between Valletta and St. Julians. These first buses were painted in yellowish green and with a black band. During this period several Maltese acquired lorries’ chassis and converted them into buses and in a short time more different types were seen running from villages to Valletta.
In 1920, the B.M.C. (British Motor Company) imported six Daimlers, one-ton solid tyre lorries, and these were converted into buses. As these were very uncomfortable they were not very popular.
In 1921 a Public Transport Co. was formed. It was called the Cottonera Motor Bus Co. Their president was a certain Mr. William Soles who granted licenses to operate from Cottonera to Valletta. Their first two buses were an American Chevrolet and a Ford V8 topped with wooden bodies made by local carpenters and mechanics, or as they were called later, bus body builders. During this period several carpenters were encouraged by this company to build bus bodies so that this company could increase its fleet rapidly.
In 1929 motor traffic regulations were enforced for the public transport such as dimensions, types, colour, capacity, etc. In 1930 the total number of buses was three hundred eighty five licensed route buses. The owners’ financial position was very critical. This situation reflected the condition, fitness and roadworthiness of the vehicles. Several companies were liquidated and thus every owner had to work on his own initiative. This led to a competition between drivers. They struggled to overload passengers and tried to perform more trips by over speeding to the positive danger of the passengers on board. The drivers and their conductors sometimes even refused to perform or continue a journey when it suited them. These offences, several times, led them to court and heavy penalization. These factors even led to arguments and quarrels between drivers. This affected the income of many owners because some drivers returned home with a pouch full of money and others not even enough for the daily expenses.
In 1931 the Traffic Control Board was formed. This board managed to enforce discipline and schedules and also introduced new routes. So the service was running more efficiently day after day. Owners of route buses became very proud of their buses. They kept their buses in a very good condition, decorated them with trimmings and named them for the village Patron Saint or for queens, operas, battleships, etc. Every route had a different colour. They were kept very clean from the outside and even from the inside. During this period the only foreign organization to run part of the Public Transport in Malta was the B.M.C.
During this time a reorganization of the Public Transport was on the agenda of one of the meetings of the Traffic Control Board. Several meetings were held and proposals were studied. The first proposal was that the number of buses had to be increased. Another proposal was that the Public Transport should either be nationalized or should work in a single company or in organized groups of bus owners. Finally the Board decided that the number of route buses has to be increased to 500 buses and have to work in organized groups of bus owners, according to the regulations drawn by the same board. These decisions led to protests and strikes. Finally the bus owners agreed with the board’s decision and the B.M.C. agreed to amalgamate with the Sliema Bus Company. Later the B.M.C. struggled to get monopoly of all the Sliema Route. They even threatened the government that they were going to quit Malta and take their buses to Cairo unless they solely got the Sliema Route.
This amalgamation between the B.M.C. and the Sliema Motor Bus Co. did not last long because the B.M.C. lost hope of getting a monopoly on the Sliema Route and sold its local interest to Mr. Joseph Gasan, a renowned Maltese businessman. Besides buying all the interest of the B.M.C. in Malta, he managed to buy one by one all the other buses of the Sliema Motor Bus Co. at low prices by using his cunning tactics and thus he obtained monopoly of all the Sliema route. He formed a disciplined management, a centralized garage and a workshop, all under his supervision. He replaced his most uncomfortable buses. After World War II he bought Ford V8 chassis from the military, imported new forty passengers’ kits of Wayne bodies, as they were called, from Canada and mounted these bodies on the V8 chassis in his own workshop. He obtained more licenses, which totaled to 110. He imported new Thames chassis and all their bodies were built by a certain bus body builder Mr. Joseph Aquilina of Paola. All these Ford Thames carried 36 passengers.
In 1955 he started selling his buses to individuals for the sum of Lm3,500 to Lm4,000 each bus according to the condition of the vehicle. When he managed to sell all his buses, he helped the new owners by organizing them in a company and leading them until they start operating.
In 1971 there was a change in government with Dom Mintoff as Prime Minister. One of the items on his electoral program was a reorganization of the Public Transport, as one of his priorities.
For the reorganization a Board was formed with the administrative secretary as president. A study was finalized and the decision was that all the route buses are to amalgamate in one group for the reason that every owner should get the same income from his bus.
The board called meetings with the delegates of the General Transport Union and informed them of this discussion. The General Transport Union called a general meeting and informed the owners that the intention of the government is to amalgamate all the routes in one group. Following these news the operates of the best routes objected to this discussion and protests and strikes were organized but these protests led to nothing. Later a proposal was made by the G.T.U. to the board stating that for a period of one year all the route buses are to amalgamate in three groups and after a year buses are to amalgamate in one group. The intent of this proposal was that if the service in three groups ran with satisfaction to the authorities, to the Public and to the owners themselves, the government may change his intention and keep the service running in three groups. This proposal was accepted by the board. In about two months all the preparations were made and three groups were formed, each group under the control of a committee. Every committee did its best to introduce an efficient service and the result was very satisfactory. A year passed and nothing was prepared to amalgamate in one group. A duty roster was circulated to every bus owner from the office of the prime minister on a two days on and one day off basis and every owner had to work on his own initiative under the control of this board and the police. This situation led to a competition between bus drivers, everyone struggling to pick up more passengers such that there were instances were a 40 seater bus was loaded with 70 passengers or even more. This situation brought several bus owners to sell their buses at a very low price. Others kept them garaged with the consequence of paying heavy penalties for not honoring the conditions and obligations as a licensee. This situation remained for more that three years, the owners themselves were fed up with this drastic situation and called several general meetings to discuss the position. In one of these meetings it was resolved to restart negotiating with the authorities to amalgamate in one group. The authorities offered help to commence service as soon as possible and on the 17th November 1977 all the route buses started operating in one group as they are today. A centralized office was formed under the control of a committee elected by bus owners every two years from a general meeting of the association. From this centralized office tickets are issued to ticket booths located at the City Gate main bus terminus and ticket sellers sell tickets only to bus drivers and also day and weekly unrestricted travel tickets to individual passengers
Presently there are 508 buses working on a day on, day off basis. Thus 254 buses are working on route transport throughout the island every day. The rest of the buses that are on their day off work private trips and perform school transport, carrying school children to and from various schools in Malta.