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Goodbye Bus 91: The demise of a Maltese icon

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One of the vintage buses that has sadly gone out of service. Photo © hidden europe
One of the vintage buses that has sadly gone out of service. Photo © hidden europe

Sad but true. The Mediterranean island of Malta has just discarded what we always judged to be one of the country’s prime attractions. But progress always comes at a price.

So when Malta earlier this month introduced a gleaming new fleet of modern buses, it meant the end of the road for the country’s distinctive vintage fleet of yellow buses. Those old buses had been a mainstay of communication, very important in a country that has no railways.

A ride on the 91

“Life in Heaven” read the sign on the front of the 91 (pictured above) which we used on one of our last rides on Malta’s ancient buses. We stopped and started in fierce traffic on the evening commuter run from the capital Valletta to Qormi.

Inside the bus a rosary dangled from the gear stick and images of the driver’s children were pinned up beside a picture of the Virgin Mary. Many of these old buses were tangible reminders of how deeply religious many Maltese still are.

The arrival of Arriva

Now the vintage vehicles—some of which were over 50-years-old—have been consigned to transport history. Many of these buses were owner-operated, and many a Maltese bus driver spent much spare time maintaining and polishing his vehicle.

That all changed on July 3, 2011 when bus conglomerate Arriva started operations in Malta. This may not be entirely bad news, for Arriva is committed to providing a much more efficient service than was ever possible under the old order.

Yet new buses mean new fares. Whilst the fare to Qormi used to be €0.47 on the 91, it increased to €1.30 on 3 July (with a new premium fare of €2.20 for non-residents of Malta).

Progress, it seems, always has its price.

About the author

hiddeneurope

About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.

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