Chevron Blog

A Graveyard for the Malta Buses
The iconic mustard coloured Malta Bus

The iconic mustard coloured Malta Bus

The iconic mustard coloured Malta buses made their exit on 2nd July 2011. Loved and hated in equal measure by both locals and visitors, they were undeniably one of the more recognizable sights on the islands’ roads.
Buses started being imported into Malta around 1905 but by 1920 bus manufacturing was also being made locally with carpenters, mechanics, upholsterers and sundry decorators joining forces to produce coaches with a high degree of customisation for local use.
The unique nature of the Malta buses was mostly due to the tradition of ownership by their drivers. This resulted in a sort of love affair between the buses and their proud owners leading to a high degree of individual decoration – not least what is locally known as ‘tberfil’ – a unique Maltese style of lettering/signwriting and decoration normally associated with buses, traditional boats, other vehicles and also shop signs. Several of the buses also had quite a unique look – this was the result of the bus bodies being built or reshaped in local workshops.

Malta Bus Signage

‘tberfil’ – a unique Maltese style of lettering/signwriting and decoration normally associated with buses

The mustard buses were rarely away from the news – and mostly for all the wrong reasons. Some of the buses were notorious polluters, hardly a surprise when quite a few were running on engines designed and built half a century ago. Driver behaviour was also an issue – a few drivers had quite a reputation and altercations with passengers were not infrequent. Still the tourists seemed to mostly love the experience – which no doubt provided for good holiday stories back home. The locals, their everyday users, mostly hated them however – after all daily commutes on the bone shaking behemoths with their rattling glass and lack of any air conditioning in the unmerciful heat of summer or on cold winter days does have its limits…
When government decided to scrap the antique buses the changeover was not easy. Bus drivers resisted strongly and the death of the Malta buses was acrimonious to say the least. A few drivers ingeniously converted and upgraded their coaches to serve as tour buses for nostalgia loving tourists. One ended up as a souvenir stall in Sliema. And the rest? Well, one can still see them in what can only be termed as a bus graveyard in the inner harbour area at Marsa – right next to where the also defunct Malta Shipbuilding used to be.

A Graveyard for the Malta Buses

A Graveyard for the Malta Buses

They lie there derelict and forgotten with the occasional visitor coming for a closer look and perhaps take a few pictures. Mercifully some of the buses have been earmarked for preservation by Heritage Malta and will eventually feature in a proposed transport museum.

Author: Stephen Bonello

Do you remember the old Malta buses? And what was your experience of them? Good, bad or simply ugly? Tell us in the comments below.

21 Responses To A Graveyard for the Malta Buses
  1. maureen Magee

    i loved travelling on these buses when visiting Malta
    they were part and parcel of Maltease life
    they were so colourful the same as the drivers, with cabs decorated in holy pictures, swinging radio’s, rosary beads etc
    ok they were hot, sticky, rattled but I loved them and so did my family and friends who visited Malta
    renovate them, bring them up todate, put them back on the roads ..,, these buses were treasured by U.s

  2. b thompson

    I loved the mustard buses part of my beloved malta
    we have had some hair raising experiences on them
    1- when the flood water swilled onto it
    2 the rear window dropped out
    3 cockroaches infestation
    4 we were sat on a bus in Valletta and people were pointing at the rear wheel when we got off in bugibba the tyre was cracked all way round the rim
    that a few of our experiences we’v had many more over the yrs.

  3. M Chilver

    Having been coming to Malta since 1973 I sadly miss these lovely but ugly buses my very first trip on one of these buses was one I would never forget and my children still do not believe, as on this bus were 2 goats and a few chickens and yes they were noisy, and rattled a bit but they were the character of the island. Also every journey was different in its own unique way.

  4. Chris Smyth

    The old buses were a bit ramshackle but they were frequent and you never had to wait over for two hours for a bus with a vacant seat to turn up. The present Maltese bus ‘service” treats the old and disabled with total contempt

  5. Sheila MacDonald

    Ispent many happy years in Malta as a child and I love the place and the people. The Malta buses were wonderful and on first using them we wondered why everyone made the sign of the cross, after our first ride we understood why. They were wonderful full of enjoyment and it really was a shame to see them go

  6. Aidan Hickey

    should have kept the buses and changed the drivers

  7. Brian Green

    My first meeting with the old Malta buses was shocking. After first stopping to go to the shop for a drink, he returned to the bus, started the engine then proceeded to speak on his mobile, in between drink from a large bottle of water, whilst steering the bus with his knees.
    The worst part however was when we were driving on the wrong side of the road. I was told afterwards that they always drive in the shade when sunny. Apart from that I loved them.

  8. John Swann

    I remember getting on a Bus at Buggibba and sitting sideways to the driver at the front only to note that all the dials were not working including the speedometer.Oh well happy days and very much missed

  9. Julie Earnshaw

    The old bus experience was one of ‘your life in their hands’. You were lucky if you got to your destination on time, sometimes not at all but most holiday makers took it in their stride. My favourite was when we left Valletta on our way back to Bugibba and the bus broke down, the driver got off, lit a cigarette and walked away and left us. Fortunately another bus pulled up and we got on that. I miss the excitement of not knowing if/when/how we were going to land at our destination

  10. Wendy Butler

    When I was at school in Malta in the early 1960’s, each bus route had its own colour scheme. Green for Sliema , Beige for Mosta, Blue for Birzibugga, etc. Made it easy to run for right bus -especially if you couldn’t read very well! Once the ‘mustard’ yellow colour scheme was introduced, you had to check the numbers!

  11. Joseph Gittos

    Having Maltese parents living in the UK we spent several holidays in Malta in the late 50’s & 60’s and remember the buses with great affection. In those days the buses were of different colours, depending on the route it operated. The most familiar to me was the red of the Birkirkara bus that we caught to our relatives homes in Hamrun/Marsa, whilst the light blue took us on a seemingly never ending journey to Melihea, and the green bus to Sliema. Happy days.

  12. JOHN J HOLMES

    As a lifelong busman in England,and a transport photographer, I first visited Malta over 20 years ago .mainly to see the buses I had read about. My first trip was on a green Reo Speedwagon from Buibba to Valletta on the 49 route.
    Since then my annual holiday has been to see the buses, { up to 2011{ but also to see our many friends on the Island .Over the years I have made many friends with drivers and builders of the buses,and even now I have the greatest respect for the vehicles turned out by Scarnif and Zinnu and many drivers who built their own buses.
    Yes Malta has new buses,,but the traditions and pride has gone out of the whole transport system, and the routes are a shambles. bring back the 49,88,627, etc.

  13. t smith

    used these buses to go all over the island. one i used was going to golden sands, we were looking through the floor at the road i think that it was when it was a hard track, loved it
    mind you the drivers were something else. the present buses are so cramped , but then they were made in china i beleive

  14. Neil McMurdy

    Such a shame to see the old vehicles gone, no character in the modern vehicles,. I do wonder which the locals prefer?
    Modern vehicles with air conditioning or the cheaper fares that they had previously, with a more frequent service.

    However, what is done cannot be reversed, let’s hope the remaining old buses are preserved in a manner befitting them and not simply lost to rot away, which is unfortunately what happened to the Malta Railway Relics from the 1930’s

  15. michael

    having lived in Malta for a number of years during the early 60s the multi coloured bus service was an experience everyone should have Drivers were law unto themselves and I am sure the travellers saying was in God we trust but not the driver memories are only good ones

  16. Jenny Parks

    Loved the busses. We were on one once and you could see the road beneath us. And oh those fumes but they were so much a part of our beloved Malta

  17. elza delores brown

    Iloved the old buses i never laught so much in all my life my daughters thought they were great to so much fun

  18. Michael Chesterman

    Yes a shame they have gone but they call it progress. yes we will miss them on our visit’s

  19. Janet Singleton

    It was an experience not to be missed. Yes some of the drivers were a bit short to the passengers but on the whole we found them to be very helpful. Shame they have gone now because the drivers were extremely proud of their buses.

  20. ANDY BALLISAT

    INTERESTING THE COMMENTS OF OTHERS ON THIS BLOG. I CAN SAY THAT I AM AND WAS SAD AT THE OLD BUS DEMISE WHICH I DO SEE REASONS FOR THIS CHANGE FOR THE VARIOUS REASONS AIRED BEFORE THIS HAPPENED. I ACTUALLY MARRIED BEV AQUILINA FROM SLIEMA IN 1978 MY AGE THEN 24. ALTHOUGH SHE CAME TO LIVE IN UK A FEW WEEKS BEFORE BEING BORN SHE ALONG WITH HER ENGLISH MOTHER HAD IN THEIR PSSESSION MANY PICTURES OF MALTA MOST WITH ROAD TRANSPORT IN VIEW. AD THIS TO THE FACT I HAD A FRIEND WHO WAS MALTESE FOR 25 PLUS YEARS AND A NEIGHBOUR WHO’S FAMILY CAME FROM FLORIANA WHO BOTH OFTEN SPOKE OF THIS MAGICAL ISLAND WETTED MY APPETITE TIL 1990 THIS BEING MY FIRST VISIT. I WAS NOT DISAPPOINTED ONE BIT BUT WISHED I’D GONE SOONER. I’VE BEEN 13 TIMES SO HAVE AT LEAST SEEN SOME TRANSPORT DELIGHTS. I AM REALLY PLEASED THAT SOME OF THE BUSES HAVE BEEN SAVED TO GIVE PEOPLE THE PLEASURE ON SEEING THEM. I HAVE TAKEN THOUSANDS OF PHOTOS IN MALTA OF ALL TYPES OF ROAD TRANSPORT AND WENT ALONE THERE FOR 5 WEEKS IN 2004 JUST BEFORE THEIR ENTRY INTO THE EU SPECIFICALLY TO RECORD ALL I COULD PRE EU ENCOMPASS. STRANGELY ONE OF MY WIFE’S BROTHERS VICTOR AQUILINA WAS A PRO PHOTOGRAPHER FROM FGURA AND HAD NEVER TOOK A SINGLE SHOT OF ANY VEHICLE IN MALTA WHICH HE ALWAYS RIBBED ME ABOUT. HE ALONG WITH HER OTHER BROTHER AND THEIR FAMILIES WERE GLAD WHEN THE BUSES WERE UPDATED. THEIR BEST TIME USING THE OLD STUFF WAS WHEN IT WAS BUS ROUTE COLOURED AS EASE OF RECOGNITION. AS AN ADDITION TO MY BLOG COMMENTS IS THAT I FEEL THE LAST YELLOW COLOUR WORN BY THESE LOVELY OLD AND NOT SO OLD BUSES WAS BETTER SUITED WITH MALTA BEING A MAINLY SUNNY PLACE. SORRY IF I’VE GONE ON A BIT.

  21. John Bentley

    As a tourist I loved them but I can well understand how the locals wanted something more practical and 21st Century. They were still in service when I was last in Malta and I suppose I will miss them when I invariably return but its the residents of Malta who dictate its transport system not 2 week tourist. Please keep a few as tourist buses.

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