The bone-shaking, charming, brightly painted vintage buses that were so characteristic of Malta were taken out of service in 2011, replaced by boring-looking but more efficient modern buses, which have disabled access. These are operated by Malta Public Transport (www.publictransport.com.mt), which is presently run by the Spanish company Autobuses Urbanos de León.
Many bus routes on Malta originate from the Valletta Bus Station and radiate to all parts of the island, but there are also many routes that bypass the capital; bus timings range from every 10 minutes to hourly for less-visited places. Punctuality is a challenge, however, and many buses run considerably late, especially in the afternoon and evening. Patience is a traveller's friend. On Gozo the bus system is much more efficient than previously, though some places are only served by an hourly bus.
Malta's old buses were a tourist attraction in themselves, and it's a shame in terms of local colour and photo opportunities that they're no longer rattling around the islands' pot-holed roads at unsettling speeds. Run as independent businesses by their drivers, they were lovingly customised with handmade parts and decorations. They were known as xarabank, a derivation of charabanc (a carriage or an old-fashioned term for a motor coach).
On the other hand, they probably also contributed to Malta being the most car-dense country in Europe. Quaintness of buses is not necessarily an endearing quality when you have to use them day to day, and the bus system is more efficient nowadays. You will very occasionally see an old bus on the road: the classic Bedfords, Thames, Leylands and AECs dating from the 1950s, '60s and '70s, brightly painted in a livery of yellow, white and orange, have not completely disappeared. A few are now used for wedding transport and photographs, and on the Sliema waterfront near the Valletta ferry, one has been repurposed as a colourful souvenir shop.
The Malta Buses by Michael Cassar and Joseph Bonnici is an illustrated history of the islands' celebrated public transport.
You can buy single tickets as you board the bus or from ticket machines, which are found near numerous bus stops. Blocks of tickets and seven-day passes must be bought in advance from ticket offices or Agenda bookshop outlets. There's also a convenient Public Transport Malta office and electronic kiosk selling Explorer and ExplorePlus passes in the arrivals hall at the airport.
If you're caught travelling without a ticket, there's a penalty charge of €10. Fares:
To see up-to-date, full bus timetables and route maps, check online at www.publictransport.com.mt. The website also has a handy online journey planner. If you're staying in Malta for an extended period, download Malta Public Transport's Tallinja app, which provides real-time information about bus arrivals and departures.
There are six different express services running between the airport and various parts of the island, including St Julian's, Sliema and Ċirkewwa. The X4 runs between Valletta and the airport, and takes just over 20 minutes. For Sliema and St Julian's, catch the X3 from the airport.
Most buses run from around 5.30am to 11pm, and frequency varies depending on the popularity of the route. In towns and villages the bus terminus is usually found on or near the parish church square.