Malta’s government has begun a gradual conversion of all public transport to free services… though its free school bus scheme is already a victim of its own success.
The scheme has got the agreement of Maltese operators but the Education Ministry is saying some of the first school minibuses are already full, and there will be need for more vehicles in a scheme which Permanent Secretary Frances Fabri admitted is ‘ambitious and complicated.’
The Ministry has urged parents to contact their local operator to plan pick-up points and routes as the project progresses. To save costs, the Maltese Government has decided to drop pupil supervision in favour of issuing pupils with ‘tracker’ fobs for their school bag, which parents can access via an app to see when the child has boarded.
The government has warned that pupils will need to use the school buses for 75% of all journeys or be penalised. Malta’s Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, says his ambition is to make all of the island’s bus network free, for which it will invest in road infrastructure where needed.
“What we want is a culture shift, to public transport. Having school children use the school buses and having young people travel for free on the buses encourages this change,” he said. Dr Muscat said that some 120 residential roads would get a make-over in the opening months of next year, as part of the government’s €700 million pledge to re-do every road on the island.
“I receive photos and emails from residents all across the country, asking if we are going to do this road and that one. It’s not a question of if, but when,” he said.