Malta’s ‘tallinja card’ offers excellent convenience and flexibility for passengers
27 October 2016 • Author(s): Konrad Pulé, General Manager of Malta Public Transport
Bus transportation in Malta is undergoing a transformation with investments being made to modernise its bus fleet and in implementing new technologies to increase efficiency. Konrad Pulé, General Manager of Malta Public Transport, explains that one particular success of the national bus operator has been the introduction of a popular new bus card.
Malta Public Transport is responsible for the operation of all public transport services by bus on the Maltese islands, and covers 30 million kilometres every year with a fleet of 380 buses and a team of over 1,300 people. Throughout the first year of operation in 2015 it is estimated that approximately 40 million passengers were carried – a significant increase when compared to previous years.
Revolutionising transport: investing in new technology to increase efficiency
Following the share transfer that took place in January 2015, we immediately began the implementation of a number of major changes within the organisation. These were aimed at improving performance in general to align with contractual requirements and to provide an efficient bus service.
Our priority was to change our internal systems to enable us to be in a better position to control the service. This included the replacement of the ticketing and fleet management system across the entire bus fleet, resulting in stronger controls at all levels and better information for our customers.
New fleet tracking system
The fleet tracking and management system was completely changed during 2015, enabling us to know where every bus is in real-time. This information enabled us to gather information on service reliability and punctuality. It also enabled us to fine-tune route schedules according to the time of day and the day of the week, therefore providing drivers and passengers with more realistic running times.
Our technology can be upgraded further with other solutions such as signal priority and bus lane enforcement.
A technology-based Control Room was installed in order to manage the services in real-time. Reliability and punctuality of the service are the main two targets of our team and we are making good progress in both, especially taking account of the traffic context in Malta.
Situations can sometimes occur, such as delays to our services due to unavoidable traffic jams or accidents, but our customers can still plan ahead. We launched a mobile app and an SMS service that gives bus users access to real-time information on which buses are due to arrive at their bus stop within the next 30 minutes. This proved to be very successful with over 50,000 downloads in the first three months.
This success was a result of Autobuses De Leon (ALESA) transferring its knowledge to Malta Public Transport. As a result the IT system tested by ALESA in other localities was adapted to Malta in order to improve information for the company and for passengers.
A successful new bus card
In July 2015 we launched a new bus card. This was a critical step to reduce the dependency on cash transactions, whilst opening up other controlled revenue channels that are more efficient. It required a significant investment in technology and communications, and the results were very positive.
“We were overwhelmed with the success of the new bus card in Malta,” said Felipe Cosmen, Chairman of Malta Public Transport. “Half the Maltese population obtained their bus card within a short period of just six months with over 82% of passengers now using a card when travelling by bus. This is a major achievement for the country as it revolutionised the way people buy their bus tickets, especially when one considers that practically everyone used to pay for their bus tickets in cash on the bus until June 2015.”
“We had to convince more vulnerable bus users, like the elderly, that this was the way forward,” explained Hon Joe Mizzi, the Maltese Minister for Transport and Infrastructure during the Transport Ticketing Conference held in Warsaw, Poland in October 2015. “We had to convince them that they had to have a plastic card to benefit from the reduced fares. The plastic card had to be topped-up with credit to be used on the bus. That was challenging as it presented a completely new concept to this category of bus users. To date, over 70% of the elderly population have a bus card, demonstrating the success of the implementation campaign.”
The bus card – branded as ‘tallinja card1’ – is an intelligent bus card designed to make it easy for customers to use the bus. The card is personalised with the customer’s photo and name and can be easily topped-up with credit online, over the phone, at any of our sales outlets or at any post office. The credit on the card does not expire. When registering for a tallinja card, customers automatically benefit from cheaper fares than when they pay on the bus. Different cards and fares are available for children, students and adults. There is also a concession card which is available to elderly and disabled passengers; and a specific card for Gozo2 residents.
This shift in culture brought about new challenges for us to ensure that sufficient and effective top-up channels were easily available to all segments of users. Not only did the use of the card itself surpass our expectations, but the electronic top-up channels were very popular with almost 60% of top-ups taking place electronically over the Internet, or using the phone or mobile app.
Bus services in Malta – historical background
On 3 July 2011 the bus service in Malta was taken over by a subsidiary of the Arriva Group. This followed a competitive tendering process launched in July 2009 by the government. The operating company faced a number of operational and financial challenges during the last quarter of 2013. The image of the company and the services subsequently systematically deteriorated. A mutual decision was taken between the government and Arriva Malta Limited for the government to buy back the company and take over the bus service and re-issue a competitive tender to identify a new bus operator in 2014. Following this mutual agreement, the public transport service company was taken over by the government on the 2 January 2014 and was operated by the government for the entire year. The Government of Malta issued an ‘expression of interest’ notice for the provision of scheduled bus services in Malta and Gozo and the sale of the existing company, and Autobuses de Leon (ALESA) was selected as the preferred bidder. The related evaluation and negotiation process was concluded towards the end of 2014. The share transfer was subsequently completed on 8 January 2015 when the new company began operating the public transport service.
Our system is easy to use. There is no need to choose the type of ticket to buy. There is no need to plan and think what the best fare will be based on what travelling patterns may be for the next few days or weeks. The card automatically chooses the best fare available at any time so that customers just have to top-up their cards and validate them every time they board the bus. It can also recognise interchanges carried out along routes, therefore allowing passengers to change routes without being charged again.
In the first customer survey of 2016, nine out of 10 tallinja card users were satisfied with the service. The opportunities are infinite. Now that half the population in the country has this bus card, it can, and will in the near future, be used for multi-modal transport and integrated ticketing systems.
Malta Public Transport also provides other cards that can be used immediately without the need to register. The ‘7-Day Explore’ card provides unlimited travel for one week. There is a card for adults and another for children (up to 10 years old). An additional card, the ‘12 Single Day Journeys’ card, offers flexibility with reduced fares; perfect for those using the bus every now and then, this card can be shared and is valid for one year.
Standard cash tickets can also be purchased from the driver on the buses. These tickets are Single Journey tickets that can be used to get to any destination within two hours, including interchanging.
The new, customised fleet: Euro 6 engines and narrower buses for Maltese roads
We have invested significantly in modernising the bus fleet, making it safer, more environmentally-friendly and more comfortable. Throughout summer 2015, 143 new Euro 6 buses were put into service featuring the latest emission standards together with improved safety and comfort standards.
Apart from contributing to the overall quality of the service, they also contributed to the reduction in maintenance and fuel consumption costs. Additional new buses have already been introduced in 2016 without any contractual obligation to do so, making our fleet one of the youngest and most environmentally-friendly in Europe.
With the latest technology when it comes to diesel engines, our fleet is environmentally-friendly and efficient, offering our customers an added benefit by contributing towards a better environment when travelling by bus.
All route buses are cleaned and maintained regularly and are equipped with air-conditioning systems for added comfort. All the new buses have two doors to facilitate the boarding and alighting of passengers.
The availability and reliability of the fleet has increased significantly and in a consistent manner, almost reaching the standard levels in Europe in just one year.
Investing in people: recruitment and training
A major recruitment drive was conducted by the company to almost double the amount of drivers. We recruited over 600 new drivers in 2015 bringing numbers up to the required levels in order to provide an efficient bus service. All the new drivers have been through rigorous training to obtain their international Certificate of Professional Competence.
The health and safety of employees and the safety of the environment in which they work is a top priority for us. Buses are constantly on the road and we are not only responsible for the safety of our employees, but also for the safety of our passengers and of the public in general.
With 5,200 bus trips carried out every day, we have a major role to play when it comes to road safety. Despite running very ambitious training plans and putting safety measures in place to reduce accidents, the injuries per million passenger ratio has already dropped significantly over the last year, which clearly shows that we are on the right track.
We are investing in technology and in our employees to improve safety and the overall customer experience. In fact, we have recently brought a new driving simulator to Malta which is now being customised to reflect the Maltese road network. Although the simulator is a training system that has been previously tried and tested in other companies in our group, it is a first for Malta that will undoubtedly contribute towards improving the skills of our drivers, particularly in circumstances that could otherwise not be easily assessed and trained on the road.
Significantly extending the route network
A major change was also made to our bus route network in line with the contracted requirements set by the contracting Authority following an extensive government public consultation. This too required investment in planning, training and information.
These route changes meant that there was an increase from 25 million kilometres to almost 30 million kilometres per year. The frequency of trips was also increased from 4,800 up to 5,200 trips daily, with a further increase to 5,600 trips during the summer months.
A positive outlook
In the first six months of 2016 we experienced an increase in passenger numbers and invested in another 33 new Euro 6 buses.
We continue to review the performance of each bus route to identify whether further improvements can be made. It is difficult to provide a high quality public transport service in Malta without sufficient bus priority measures. Our company has established a constructive relationship with the Transport Authority3 to study solutions that can make public transport easier to use, and faster.
While being very well aware of the challenges we face, we are committed to improve the overall bus user experience and to provide a safe, credible and efficient bus service in Malta and Gozo; one that will convince more car users to take the bus.
- The name ‘tallinja’ comes from the Maltese words ‘tal-linja’ which is the way the Maltese people refer to the bus service
- Gozo is a smaller sister island in the Maltese archipelago with around 32,000 residents
- The Authority for Transport in Malta is the contracting authority responsible for developing and controlling public transport in Malta.
Konrad Pulé has been involved in the land transport sector for the past 13 years having worked on various transport projects in Malta. He was appointed as Chief Officer for Land Transport within the Authority for Transport in Malta in 2010 where he was responsible for the regulation of driver training, testing and licensing, vehicle registration, goods transport, and passenger transport. In 2015 he took on the role of General Manager of the bus company, Malta Public Transport.