09 July 2003

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Public transport industrial action
- no one will be allowed to break the law – Transport minister

By Kurt Sansone
The authorities are not taking any flack from bus owners and yesterday warned that if pensioners are made to pay tariffs higher than those stipulated by law legal action would ensue against the drivers involved.
The warning came ahead of the industrial action declared by the public transport association for today, which calls on bus drivers not to respect the reduced tariffs pensioners pay upon presentation of the Kartanzjan.
Kartanzjan holders pay a flat rate of 10 cents on all bus routes.
Government sets public transport tariffs and the association has no legal right to adjust tariffs. The authorities called on passengers to report any case of abuse and promised that the police would take legal action against the drivers. The Transport Authority will also be conducting a number of spot checks on buses to ensure that the law is upheld.
Speaking to The Malta Financial and Business Times yesterday evening, Transport Minister Censu Galea reiterated that no one was going to be allowed to break the law.

He insisted that the crux of the matter are not the issues being raised but the thorough reform being contemplated for the public transport system.
"I appeal to the association to discuss an overall reform with us. This is an opportunity to come forward instead of resorting to more industrial actions," Galea said.
Asked about past experience concerning public transport reforms when tariffs were increased with the promise of change that never materialised, Galea insisted that nobody can pretend an increase in tariffs unless the public transport system undergoes radical change.
"The last time tariffs were increased was in 1999 and when I announced them I did not link them with reforms. I am inviting the association to discuss a thorough overhaul of the system but nobody can pretend an increase in tariffs unless the system undergoes radical reform," Galea said.
Meanwhile, Transport Authority Chairman Charles Demicoli told The Malta Financial and Business Times that government has already taken its decisions on the claims raised by the association and there is no point in discussing them further.
Demicoli said that as regards the ticketing machines government has commissioned an expert to study the electronic system and if bugs are identified they will be rectified in due course. "But we are adamant that the ticketing system should be operational by 14 July," Demicoli said.
On the issue of the 30 additional buses that the association wants to be included in the subsidy list for the purchase of new buses, Demicoli said that government would consider the issue only after the 147 bus owners that had applied originally would have purchased their new buses.
Demicoli reiterated his invitation to the association to sit down at the negotiating table and discuss a thorough reform of the system. "I am not hard-headed and reforming public transport would be a better task if the association gave its input."
Correspondence published by the ministry for transport yesterday refuted claims by Transport association President Victor Spiteri on Monday that the association is not asking for a Lm2.5 million subsidy.
During a press briefing on Monday, Spiteri said that it was not true that the association was asking for a subsidy of Lm2.5 million, a substantial increase of almost Lm2 million over the subsidy paid to the association in 2002.
But correspondence published yesterday by the ministry for transport showed that association president Victor Spiteri had asked government for a subsidy of Lm2.51 million. Spiteri had also asked the minister for the increase to become affective on 1 March 2003. The letter was dated 6 February 2003.
Furthermore, in a second letter dated 21 February 2003, Spiteri threatened that the association was going to wait until 1 March for government’s response after which it would give the public a week’s notice before removing the Kartanzjan arrangement and announcing higher tariffs.
Bus owners are guaranteed a minimum income subsidy for each bus they own. Government subsidy for 2001 stood at Lm513,580 and that of last year at Lm779,136

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Editor: Saviour Balzan
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