Using the Bus in Malta and Gozo
Buses in Malta (historical page dating from 2010)
The information below refers to the situation up until July 2nd, 2011. For information from July 3rd onwards please see the Arriva Malta website.
Buses in Malta are plentiful and frequent, on the main routes at least, and generally good value for money. Using them can be a rewarding and interesting experience, particularly if you appreciate the historic nature of some of the older vehicles, although many of the locals are understandably looking forward to seeing the old vehicles replaced by modern ones, which will happen from July 2011. Information about the routes and timetables can be sketchy, so it helps to do a little homework beforehand.
Essentially there is a single operator in Malta (ATP) running a unified network on contract to the Government. Buses on normal bus routes are known as route buses, and all are painted predominately yellow and white. Vehicles display route numbers at the front (and often at the rear as well) but do not show their destination. The network is somewhat complicated with many route variations, resulting in a large number of route numbers, some of which only apply to a handful of journeys.
The ATP, or Passenger Transport Association, is in fact a drivers' association running routes on behalf of Malta's Transport Authority (Transport Malta, successor to the ADT). Individual vehicles are generally owned, maintained and garaged by their drivers, many of whom delight in putting their individual stamp on their buses. Many of the vehicles have their origins (the chassis at least) in the UK and attract a large following of bus enthusiasts, mainly from Britain. Private hire coaches and minibuses operate separately from the route buses, although route buses may sometimes be found on special school contract journeys.
Fares and Tickets - There is a choice of paying individually for each single journey (if you change bus you pay again) or buying 1-day, 3-day, 5-day or 7-day tickets when you make your first journey. All single tickets are available from the driver and the standard one-zone fare for the Valletta routes is €0.47. Longer journeys cost slightly more: €0.54 for two zones, €0.58 for three zones (see below for zones). The child fare, irrespective of zone, is €0.35 and this applies to children aged from 3 to 10. There is also a fare of €0.35 (child €0.23) for one fare stage. There are no return tickets, apart from a special fare of €0.93 from Valletta Waterfront to Valletta bus station and back, aimed at cruise passengers. There are ticket machines at Valletta Bus Station but these seem to be rarely used (or maintained).
Fares on Direct and University Routes - "Direct" routes are those avoiding Valletta (for example Sliema to Bugibba and beyond), and a standard single fare of €1.16 applies (child €0.58). This fare also applies on certain "Express" journeys to and from Valletta (routes 132, 153, 449). The special hourly routes serving the University and Mater Dei Hospital have a flat fare of €0.70 (child €0.58). An Excel spreadsheet showing full details of bus fares used to appear on the ADT website - note that the bus fares are still believed to be current, but the taxi fares in this document date from 2008.
Fare Zones - All fares in the south and east of the island are in zone 1, except that a special fare of €1.16 (child €0.58) applies on services 38 and 138 to Hagar Qim and Wied iz-Zurrieq. Zone 2 applies beyond Rabat, Mosta or Bahar ic Caghaq (between Sliema and Bugibba). Zone 3 fares apply to Mellieha, Cirkewwa and Armier Bay. The zones are only relevant to the Valletta routes.
Day Tickets - These are valid on all route buses, including Direct and Express services (but not night buses). In theory they are available from all drivers, but you may be unlucky and find a driver who is unable to sell you one. If you are staying at Bugibba, you can buy them from the little window at the bus station (and you may get a plastic wallet to put it in). Prices of day tickets are as follows: 1 day €3.49, 3 days €9.32, 5 days €11.65, 7 days €13.98.
Special services - A special night network based on Paceville (part of St Julians, near Sliema) operates from 2300 hours on Friday and Saturday nights (daily in high summer), and a special fare of €1.16 is payable. Day tickets are not valid. Another special service is route 154 which is a free local service around Naxxar operated by the ATP on behalf of the local council. There is also a free service in Sliema, operated by a Cancu midibus on behalf of the council. Unfortunately, you have to be a Sliema resident to use this and enthusiasts wishing to sample the service may be turned away.
Wheelchair access - Illustrated above is a low-floor King Long bus with a wheelchair ramp. Only about 70 vehicles out of around 500 are of this type. The number of modern low-floor vehicles amounts to about 125, or one quarter of the total. Any vehicle can turn up on any route (in theory they rotate throughout the entire roster), so unless you have detailed access to the duty rosters it is impossible to predict if a low-floor bus or wheelchair accessible vehicle will turn up.
The Future - Enjoy the old buses while you can as big changes are on the way. From July 3rd, 2011 the ATP will no longer operate Malta's buses, and Arriva will step in with a 10-year contract to operate in Malta and Gozo. Most buses will be brand new, and the total number of buses in the fleet will be considerably reduced, as vehicles will be used on a daily basis instead of the previous one-day-on, one-day-off system.
Buses on Gozo
Buses on Gozo are operated by a separate association to those on Malta, but like Malta the driver-owned vehicles run on a unified network on behalf of the Government. Travelling from the ferry at Mgarr to the main town, Victoria, is not a problem, as buses on route 25 run in conjunction with sailings for most of the day. To visit anywhere else by route bus, however, requires reference to a timetable, as services are infrequent. Full details of timetables are available on this website and are also on display at Victoria bus station. Note that very few buses run on Sundays and public holidays.
Fares and Tickets - Single tickets are available only from drivers. There are no return tickets or day tickets. A normal single ticket costs €0.47 for adults and €0.23 for children aged 3 to 10. A special short distance fare of €0.16 is also available for journeys within the same village. Before 8 a.m. on Mondays to Saturdays, all tickets cost €0.30 with no child discount. From March to October a special fare of €0.82 each way applies to journeys to Dwerja and Ramla Bay, both of which are tourist destinations on the coast.