The price of progress

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 chasis 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 airconditioning, 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.

14 replies
  1. Cecile
    Cecile says:

    Nice article. Malta will surely lose some of its mystery and romanticism without those good old buses.

  2. Erik the Reader
    Erik the Reader says:

    And probably these buses will be soled and end up in some eastern european country. You can see some small green busses of France still functioning in various towns in Romania.

    • Mary
      Mary says:

      Apparently a lot are being scrapped, 60 are being kept ‘for the tourists’ and more still being sold to collectors. You’d be surprised how many bus enthusiasts there are. Were I planning to go live in Malta, I’d be tempted to buy one and convert it into a ‘flat’…

      Mary Murphy

  3. Peter
    Peter says:

    We live in a world where sadly progress and change has generally meant ‘bigger is best’, we have apparently enjoyed what faceless big business has offered us………after all it is faster, cleaner, more efficient, cheaper, bigger and yet I am begining to think that humans have a real need to be (at least partially) surrounded by things that we can understand, feel, empathise with. If new developments effectively erase the past with nothing left to remind us of things we have grown up with, then I think we are diminished. In the Uk we have long since decried the rape of our town centres by large concerns…….’you only know what youv’e lost when its gone’. I do hope that the Maltese do not regret the loss (to a big concern) of their user friendly bus services………from the pictures I will!

  4. Cecile
    Cecile says:

    Yes you are probably right. Pleased thy are keeping a few (like our old yellow trams here).
    I am really enjoying Budapest, thanks Mary. So much to discover! I am happy 😉

  5. Tim Child
    Tim Child says:

    I am so sorry I missed this article the first time round. The Malta buses are part of my child hood. Before they were all yellow they were different colours for each route and each bus had a little shrine on it to knell before and cross yourself before you started your journey. How can Arriva be an improvement to this island and its culture. It is the same in Budapest when they took away the trams with wooden seats. Sometimes progress is regression.

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