Call to improve bus service

The Consumers' Association has urged the director of consumer affairs to take measures to ensure operator Arriva improves the bus service, a week before the company's self-imposed September 11 deadline for an efficient public transport system.

The association had filed a complaint before the Competition and Consumer Affairs' Authority in July, listing a range of problems Maltese consumers were facing.

Now association president Benny Borg Bonello has raised the issue of the validity of the €1.30 two-hour ticket, which according to Arriva's conditions could actually expire mid-journey.

If the validity of the pass or other relevant documentation expires, the passenger must leave the bus or pay another fare to continue to his intended destination, according to the conditions.

If the commuter does not hold a valid ticket, pass or other relevant documentation, he will have to pay the fare for the journey together with a penalty of €10.

The Consumers' Association said it was unfair for commuters, who were not responsible for the duration of the journey, to be fined for something they did not have control over.

“You can't keep your eyes glued to your watch,” he said, adding that passengers should be informed of these conditions.

None of the 10 commuters at the Marsa park-and-ride and the Valletta bus terminus who spoke to The Sunday Times were aware of this condition of carriage.

A man from Mellieħa said he bought a two-hour ticket every day between Monday and Friday to return home after work, and did not need a day ticket as he was given a lift in the morning.

“It has at times taken me more than two hours to reach home1 and we had been promised punctual service. Why would I have to pay extra for a trip which was not supposed to take more than an hour?” he asked.

A British couple on their way to Buġibba who bought a two-hour ticket from the vending machine said they had been waiting to get on a bus for nearly an hour, therefore eating into the two-hour threshold.

A spokesman for Arriva said the company believed this condition was “already clear in publicity material, conditions of carriage and reiterated by (the company's) people on the ground.” However, Arriva said it would take the complaint on board.

The Arriva spokesman said public information campaigns would continue through the media and via the customer care centre, adding Arriva employees and representatives at bus stops and interchange sites also provided commuters with information.

The Consumer Association is also asking for a more comprehensive information campaign, explaining terms of use, new routes,and changes implemented to the system.

The consumer association also voiced concern over the company's promise of a service of the highest quality, which was “far from reality”.

Arriva reiterated that due to the shortage of 180 drivers in July, the company was unable to deliver the quality of service intended.

“Significant improvements have been made and we will be sharing more about that and talking about future developments and the next phase of changes after September 11,” the spokesman said.

Mr Borg Bonello said the association had aired its concerns with Arriva and Transport Malta in July, but had not heard from them since.

In an appeal filed last week, the association said the director of consumer affairs was duty-bound to protect the interests of consumers and called on him to issue the interim measures.

When contacted, the Transport Ministry said the association had made most of its complaints when the service was launched.

“The association will probably agree that several of its complaints have since been addressed as rapid and substantial progress in the transition has been achieved,” aministry spokesman said.

published in the Times of Malta of the 4th September 2011