For many years one of the easiest ways to see a vintage bus in action was to visit the Triton fountain roundabout at City Gate Square outside Malta’s capital, Valetta. Models not used anywhere else on Earth were still providing routine services around the island and used the roundabout as a bus terminal.
It was an open secret that Malta was a sort of Cuba for buses instead of vintage cars. Bus-spotters from across the globe would head to the bus terminal outside Valetta’s ancient walls to catch sight of British Bedford buses from decades past while locals were boarding the very same buses to get to work.
The first time I recall Malta’s buses changing, their exterior colour went from green to yellow while the fleet remained exactly the same. From summer 2011, not only did their livery change from yellow to a muddy aquamarine, but the fleet changed too. Maltese buses had been privatised. 400 independently licenced drivers that owned, maintained, and customised their vehicles had a new boss.
For more Malta bus images than you can shake a stick at visit: www.maltabybus.com
Photos of their buses used to be pinned above drivers where cut outs of page three topless models probably should have been. The system of driver-ownership meant each bus acted as an individual bus company pocketing profit (hence the numbers crushed aboard in the good old days) and responsible for upkeep (hence the lack of much of this). To ensure buses travelled the more unused routes, a rota system was used.
Though privatisation is undoubtedly good news for the environment and passenger comfort (if not the passenger wallet) it changes forever the feel of the island’s only land-based public transport network. No longer will aging buses belching thick diesel fumes be taken home by their driver-owners to be parked up on side streets outside houses like any other private vehicle.