Malta’s new contractor starts

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Spanish subsidiary of National Express takes over from the government in Malta

MALTA Autobuses Urbanos de León S.A was expected to take over government-owned Malta Public Transport on January 8, created following the nationalisation of Arriva Malta. Local news reports suggest that it’s paying €8m for a business that was bought by the government for €1 a year ago.

Leased vehicles from the UK are to be introduced to replace those supplied by the Unscheduled Bus Service consortium, Transport Malta CEO, James Piscopo told the Times of Malta newspaper. Malta Public Transport already operates 45 buses leased from Dawsonrentals – a mix of Optare Solo SRs and Wrightbus-bodied Volvo B7RLEs.

The UK buses will only be used until Autobuses Urbanos de León S.A’s own vehicles arrive. It has committed to bringing 142 to Malta and an artist’s impression of the new livery suggests that some at least will be Otokar Vectio Cs. No articulated buses or double-deckers are included. An additional 100 drivers may be supplemented by another 200 to meet proposed schedules.

Talking about the handover to the new contractor, Transport Minister, Joe Mizzi said: “Everything is going to be exactly the same as it is now. It’s a soft entry. From then onwards, there will be a programme in place which will gradually roll out the IT and ticketing infrastructure. The orders have already been made.

“What one can expect to see in January are hired buses. They won’t be brand new but they will help kick off operations until the new buses come along.”

Autobuses Urbanos de León S.A Director Felipe Cosmen said: “I’m delighted that Transport Malta has chosen us to operate this important and complex contract. We will introduce 30% more capacity into Malta’s network during peak times and providing additional seats.”

A court rejected an application for a warrant of prohibitory injunction intended to stop the authorities from entering into any contractual agreements that had been filed by Island Buses Malta. According to Malta Today, the decision given in chambers by Judge Jacqueline Padovani Grima also revoked a temporary injunction to the same effect, which had been issued by Judge Mark Chetcuti.

Lawyers representing Island Buses Malta had argued that Transport Malta had shifted the goalposts, to the detriment of their client, citing a €23m government subsidy to the Spanish operator, which is a subsidiary of National Express-owned ALSA, and the fact that it would be allowed to start off with a partial bus service – contrary to a condition in the expression of interest stipulating that the provider chosen would be obliged to provide full service from the outset.

According to Malta Today Judge Grima held that the injunction was not necessary to protect the rights of the plaintiffs at the stage it was requested because it had the option to challenge the award through a court case. Neither was the potential damage caused to the plaintiff irremediable, as there was still the possibility that the negotiations between Autobuses Urbanos de León S.A and Transport Malta could collapse, which would mean negotiations could then continue with Island Buses. The Judge also held that the prejudice caused to the plaintiff, were its request rejected “did not begin to compare” with that which would be caused to Transport Malta and the government were the process to suddenly stop.