On 3 July, residents of the town of Malta in the state of New York will be getting ready to celebrate the holiday of holidays – Independence Day. On the island of Malta, the aptly named Arriva company will be rolling out a fleet of new buses as the yellow and orange tanks of yore will be retired to pasture. What some diehard romantics (myself included) see as yet another homogenous nail in the coffin of individuality, will be welcomed by many locals.
These clunking beasts are in varying states of well-being. Some have been cared for and spoiled like an only child, while others have the neglected look of wanton strays. The strange system of owner/drivers has been around in Malta for years. Some buses have been handed down from father to son and are very much part of the family. Many are built on the chassis of WWII British Army vehicles – and other than the colour (which replaced the previous green in 1995), they are quite distinct.
Yes, some of the drivers would do better in a rally car. And yes, some of them lever the concept of rudeness to new heights. But for all that, they’re like that eccentric old Aunt that everyone loves yet no-one wants to spend time with. Traffic in Malta is a nightmare. Finding a parking space can take hours – literally – believe me, I know! There is no room to expand the roads and add bus lanes. So it’s difficult to see how this new fleet will improve the situation.
The Malta Government document that outlines the new services promises ‘lower fares for all residents’. Currently, to get from St Julians to Valetta costs 0.47 c. Next month, a resident making that journey will have to pay €1.30. Granted that ticket is valid for 2 hours but what if they want to stay longer? Another €1.30 to get home? Ok, they could buy a day pass – for €1.50 but if they’re only making one return trip, that still doesn’t come out any cheaper. It has to be that the intention is to have lower fares for residents – not lower than they are now, but lower than what the tourists pay – that’s the only way the sums add up!
Perhaps it’s about a more comfortable journey – better air conditioning, comfier seats, trained drivers! The new buses certainly look slick (if a tad bland) and am sure the matching uniforms will spruce up the drivers, too. But will they be as flexible? Now, it seems that you can hop off a Malta bus anywhere you like – a word in the ear and the bus comes to a halt and off you go. Doubt that will be happening next month. Flexibuses can be remarkably rigid!
I’m all for progress – or at least, I think I am. Or I was. Am not sure any more. I see what’s happening at home in Ireland with the bogs, and in Malta with the buses, and I have to wonder at the price of this progress. And yes, I’ve seen the black plumes of smoke from some of these buses and I appreciate the environmental argument for getting rid of them, but I still wonder at the relative ease at which we cast aside tradition. It seems like more could be done to make what we have better… and to treat it like a legacy instead of constantly upgrading ourselves to the point where we’re in danger of forgetting who we are.