Recollections of Kent and Sussex from Malta A surprising Malta export Our old colourful Maltese buses

By Albert Fenech

It really is something that the colour and shape of our old buses should win acclaim across the world

We are used to exporting and bartering stuff since Phoenician times 3,500 years ago, items like fresh olives, olive oil, wheat and grapes, but who would have thought that for the last 20 years we have been exporting our discarded buses!

Internal transport in Malta has never been a great problem (except for today with roads clogged by private vehicles) because of the short distances involved.

Coastal areas used boats and were restricted mainly to other coastal localities. For centuries in small towns and villages each family had a horse and cart to work field agriculture and tout vegetables and fruits around other villages. There were also horse taxis for the more well to do.

Employment was virtually unknown and non-existent except with administrative authorities or in the military.

At the turn of the Century to the 20th matters took a massive turn. Internal mobility became a great need and a train service and trams provided this limited mobility.

At the beginning

Outside Malta, the development of vehicles was rapidly expanding until it became generally available to all aligned to a vast increase in employment opportunities in factories, mines and other industries.

Buses in Malta were introduced in 1905, purchased from Thorneycroft, and slowly became more popular as internal mobility proved more essential. The Malta Motor Omnibus and Transport Syndicate was responsible for the novelty and the service ran to just one return route, from Valletta, through Floriana, Msida, Gzira, Sliema and St Julian’s, the last three at the time expanding greatly as residential areas.

Sadly, it lasted for just one year but 15 years later another company was launched making use of the engines from military vehicles and ambulances disused at the end of World War I.

These were wooden frame buses carrying between 12 and 16 passengers and as a rapidly increasing enterprise these became very popular with driver-owners building their own chassis and driving their own bus. In addition, by the late 1920s many chassis began being imported from the United States.

At the beginning of 1930 there were 600 buses on Maltese roads and the Government froze the issue of further licences, the only permitted being an old bus being scrapped be replaced by a new one.

All this coincided with the end of railway and tram transport in Malta and in 1931 the authorities realised buses were here to stay and needed regulation as to routes, bus stops and fares, and one VERY IMPORTANT aspect – THE COLOUR OF BUSES!

A bus terminal was announced in Valletta with all routes departing/arriving there. However, there was one great setback, illiteracy was still very much prevalent and route numbers, routes and destinations were useless to those illiterate.

To overcome this obstacle all routes were given a different coloured chassis and hence the popularity of Malta’s route buses which has now spread across the world with the import of a Malta bus as a transport icon!

By the end of the 1970s, all this came to an end. Prime Minister at the time Dominick Mintoff declared that such distinguishing colouring, although visually pleasing, was an insult. Illiteracy was now greatly minimal so all buses had to be painted green and bear route numbers and destination routes.

The situation lasted to 2011 when a foreign company took over all public transport services to be replaced by the Malta Public Bus Service which is operative today.

Right, so what has this to do with Kent and Sussex?

In Kent there is The VINTAGE BUS Company with a variety fleet of beautiful that have their own histories and range back in time. All these can be hired for special occasions.

These range from London Routemasters, an iconic black cab and what it describes as “a quirky Maltese bus”!

Its fleet is available for wedding hire, parties, television and film work, promotional activities, funerals and corporate events.

The Maltese bus is highly popular to be used for promotional events and films and is promoted by Vintage Bus thus:

“The Maltese bus was originally a wartime Bedford QL truck. Sold by the War Department in 1958, the body was removed and the bus body built on it.

“It remained in service in Malta until 2008, and was purchased by Austin in 2009. This bus was fully restored in Malta at a cost in excess of £30,000 and is one of the buses that were restored whilst buses were still in commission.

“The bus featured hand-painted details and contains part kindly donated by fellow enthusiasts. It’s by far the best example of a traditional Maltese bus in route bus colours both in the UK and in Malta.”

Several similar buses have been sold and are in promotional use throughout the United Kingdom and more extensively in the United States, among a number of other countries including Italy, France and Spain

They are still also widely used in Malta and Gozo as a popular tourist attraction with a wide range of tours throughout the two islands enabling comfortably-seated passengers to enjoy the views and the environment as well of course for visiting places. 

Unknown Kent and Sussex editor Lyn Funnell spent a number of years in Malta as a young girl and has many items to recall memories. 

Co-Editor Maria Bligh also spent holidays there.

Maria’s mug with a Malta Bus on it.

 

Albert Fenech

salina46af@gmail.com

  

Author

  • Albert Fenech

    Albert Fenech was born in Malta in 1946. His family moved to England in 1954 where he spent boyhood and youth before in 1965 returning to Malta. He spent eight years as a journalist with “The Times of Malta” before taking a career in HR Management Administration with a leading international construction company in Libya, later with Malta Insurance Brokers, and finally STMicroelectronics Malta, employing 3,000 employees, Malta’s leading industrial manufacturer. Throughout he actively pursued international freelance journalism/ broadcasting for various media outlets covering social issues, current affairs, sports and travel. He has written in a number of publications both in Malta and overseas, as well as publishing two e-books. For the last eight years he had been writing a “Malta Diary” with pictures for Lyn Funnel’s B-C-ingU.com international travel magazine.

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