Yesterday was an important day in Maltese history. It was the day the traditional Maltese bus stepped down, replaced by its modern Arriva counterpart.
Loved and hated in equal parts, the orange buses - some of which dated back to the 1950s, if not earlier - were an integral part of Maltese roads (read into that as you wish). There would always be one close by, ready to hoot it's obnoxious horn at anyone who dared get in the way. Having one close by, however, did not necessarily mean that you were guaranteed a lift if you were waiting at a bus stop. Sometimes, drivers would simply choose to keep driving.
The buses were driver-owned, which - amongst other things - meant that they could decorate the vehicles according to their personal (usually, religious) preference. Song lyrics also often adorned their huge windscreens. "No woman, no cry" for whatever quizzical reason being a favourite.
They were also, however, dirt cheap. I remember a time when a basic ride cost 11c (26 EUR cents/24 GBP pence). Prices did increase since the last time I used a bus on the island (I'm not entirely sure when exactly that was!) but fares were never what you could call expensive.
The new Arriva system has been greeted with mixed reactions. Some resent the inevitable fare increase, others look forward to a somewhat efficient public transport system on the island - even if just to relieve the country of some congestion on its roads (in 2010, there were almost as many cars on the island as there are people), the bus drivers themselves are none too pleased to have their beloved buses taken away from them. Others just look on and mock.
While it's high time for an efficient service to be introduced to the island, it is sad to see the big orange hulks go. They were a tourist attraction in their own right - for many, a visit to Malta may never be the same again.
[Read: The Final Journey]