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.
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.
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.