Malta launches a new public transit system

Arriva Malta
A new bus, operated by Arriva Malta boards passengers at the new terminal in Valletta (Originally published by the Times of Malta).

While Malta was famous for its old fleet of yellow-and-orange buses servicing the public transport needs of the entire island by operating out of a central node in Malta’s capital city, I wholeheartedly welcomed the announcement of a new system with a modern fleet of buses. Nostalgia aside, Malta’s old buses were in need of replacement; they had no air conditioning, were heavy polluters, and were independently owned and operated by their drivers. Many Maltese would cringe at the thought of riding one of the old buses during the hot summer months when the buses were stuffed with sweaty passengers, let alone driving behind one of the dilapitated buses as they would expel a rather deadly concoction of fumes and smoke as they lumbered up a hill.

Malta’s new transit system was delivered in collaboration with Transport Malta, the local infrastructure planning and maintenance body, along with Arriva, a British public transit operator that runs public transit systems across Europe, which has recently been acquired by DeutschBahn (DB).

Malta was very well informed leading up to the launch of Arriva Malta’s service on July 3, 2011, and the general public was hopeful of new changes, better service, and air conditioned buses, however the actual turn of events no doubt sent a chill up the spines of upper management and became the largest front-page news item for the subsequent three weeks.

A classic Maltese bus (xarabank).

At 5:15am on July 3, 2011, Arriva Malta’s first buses were scheduled to roll out of Arriva’s bus yard, however that was made difficult by the fact that approximately 180 bus drivers, most of whom were drivers from the previous system, did not show up for work. It was touted as an act of sabotage by Malta’s former bus drivers who were unhappy with their new working conditions, and on Arriva’s first day of service, it instigated a complete disaster. Hundreds of unhappy passengers were seen stranded at bus stops and under the strong Maltese sun, tempers flew as passengers fought their way onto the reduced fleet of operational buses. The second day of service was no different from the first as around 60 bus  drivers still refused to show up for work, however Arriva was able to leverage their size by importing over 100 bus drivers from the UK to take over and get their buses on the road. For the drivers that did show up to work, they still managed to help sabotage the system by making unauthorized breaks mid-route, and even going out of service and parking their buses at home when they were supposed to be on duty.

When I arrived on the island on July 9, the buses were out, but not without problems:

  • Operating frequencies were not consistent, and buses operating on the same route were bunching up, to the point where I once saw seven buses servicing the same route running one after the other.
  • Bus capacity was not sufficient on most bus routes. It was quite often that buses would begin skipping stops as they were full of passengers, often stranding passengers for over an hour.
  • Some mainline bus routes are too long and make loops around every village that they pass which make certain routes unnecessarily long.
  • Some routes utilize roads that are simply not feasible for buses, either because of their poor condition or because they’re too narrow to accomodate the turning radius of a bus: this is especially true for some of the smaller villages like Gharghur.

By the time I was leaving, however, the operations had improved significantly. Buses were arriving more regularly, electronic display signs were in use with audio alerts for stops along the route, and revisions had already been made to several of the routes based on passenger feedback and analysis. Another major revision is scheduled for the beginning of September, which will hopefully resolve any major issues before the start of school. While most Maltese still grumble about the change, I am optimistic that the system will serve the island well and will continue to improve as time goes on.

For more updates on Arriva Malta’s service, visit their website.

What’s Next?

I, along with many other graduating students, am in a difficult phase of life, full of uncertainty, hope, and disappointment. Entering engineering right after high school was an easy choice that was quite natural for me. After 3 years of education and a year-long internship in Spain, I am a very different person than I once was and now I am dealing with the question of “What’s next?”. I can envision what I want my life to be in the future, but don’t know which path I should take to get myself there. Ultimately, I want to live a happy life. I want to love and be loved. I want kids, and I want to be with them at every moment as they grow up. I want to be someone important; not for the fame or for my ego, but simply because I want to put my incredible skills and talents to their best possible use; settling for anything less would be a waste of my potential. I want to die smiling, without fear and without regrets.

Enjoying a dinner with Joe Meyer and his wife, Julie, some years ago.

I was recently inspired by the story of the passing of my dear adopted grandfather, Joe Meyer. In the last years of his life, he battled cancer and defied the expectations of his doctors by making it to birthday after birthday, all the while loved and cared for by his family, friends, and dear wife. When the day finally came for him to pass on last Spring, he knew and so did his wife. She told him that he could go and that he didn’t have to fight anymore. She nodded to the attending nurse who removed his breathing mask and began to sing him love songs reminiscent of the joyful time they spent together in their early years. Joe Meyer hung on for another hour without life support, although I was told it seemed like an eternity. All the while, he smiled peacefully, without ceasing to gaze upon his wife, the love of his life and his companion for over 50 years. I see so many people living lives complicated with unnecessary anger, bitterness, and regrets, and wish that more people could live happy and die peacefully like Joe Meyer did.

So what about my future? I seem to have a pretty unique combination of skills and talents and am looking for a way in which I can fully apply myself and continue to grow (“like a tree through the ages”). I am currently open to any path that will take me where I want to go, whether it be through grad school, an early career opportunity, or perhaps something else entirely. I have enjoyed my research experiences so far, and certainly believe that I possess the attributes to become a Master’s student in Engineering, so assuming a professor will sponsor me, it is certainly one path I could see myself excelling in. The big question, of course, is where and what do I study? Should I continue in Civil Engineering or consider other alternatives as well? I have also been contemplating employment as a way to get a head start on life, but have been overwhelmed with the possibilities! Most of the “1-to-2-year-rotational-leadership-development” programs are quite intriguing, but seem to be more directed at computer engineering, commerce, and business graduates (and therefore it is a little hard for me to compete for those spots). Furthermore, a lot of structural engineering jobs require more than just an undergraduate degree. More than just “what”, another big question is “where?”. Do I want to stay in Toronto long-term? (Probably not) If not, where? The States, out West? Europe?

One intriguing possibility, quite different from any other option, is to train for the 2014 winter olympic games, likely in a skiing event. Why? Simply because I’m a great skier, and I doubt many other Maltese citizens can say the same. One option I’m considering is putting two and two together and finding a job out west so I can work, gain engineering experience, and train all at the same time.

While the questions and the uncertainty are a slight burden on my shoulders, it also provides me with a fantastic opportunity to create a life for myself, however I so choose. I really want to do something unique, something that will set me apart from the rest of the thousands of graduates in Canada this year, and I challenge each and every one of you who are also in the same position and reading this post to do the same! We are all in a position where we have great potential and now is the time to do something special, something crazy! If we don’t follow our dreams today, tomorrow we will wake up and discover it’s already too late.

WordPress 3.0 Installed

WordPress 3.0 has finally been released, and is now installed on RaphSammut.ca. I’m not sure what happened, but the automatic update knocked out my website and I am now going through the painful process of restoring everything.

(Obvious) Lessons (re-)learned:

  • Always back-up your files!! It’s as easy as making a tar.gz archive of your wordpress directory and a simple backup of your MySQL database.
  • Remember to disable all your plug-ins first (this may have caused my crash).
  • Put your site into maintenance mode before updating.

I could not get anything to work properly, so I just ended up installing a fresh copy of wordpress and am now transferring all my files to the new installation.

Oh well, you live you learn..

The reason I updated WordPress was so that I can start attacking my back-log of unwritten posts! Here’s my checklist:

  • Trip to Florence, Pisa, Siena (May 28-30)
  • The Curious Incident of the Angry Algerian with Two Knives in the Night-Time (June 3)
  • Trip to Malta (June 11-12)
  • Trip to Rome  (June 18-20)
  • Las Hogueras de San Juan de Alicante (June 21-24)

What else is new?

  • A big welcome to the new Canadian interns, Lucy Yin and Kasper Woiceshyn who have started working at CYPE Ingenieros in Alicante, Spain and are sharing the flat with us.
  • I bid farewell to by far the nicest and most fun room mates I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a flat with: Conni & Sebastian! (You can check out their awesome blog here).
  • The amazing atmosphere we’ve had in Alicante these past few days due to the feast of St. John and the World Cup (Spain is still in the running!!)
  • My dear mother and brother are visiting a week from today. We’ll be two road-trips: Alicante-Granada/Motril/Trevelez-Toledo-Cuenca-Valencia AND Valencia-Barcelona-Madrid.
  • My Grandmother and cousin are visiting at the end of the month for a weekend.
  • I head to Malta for 10 days from August 7-17, followed by a visit to Finland from August 18-22 and Gothenburg City, Sweden from August 28-29.

Stay tuned for the promised posts! Now that I’m on half-day summer schedule I have time to catch up 😀

Buenos Días

Wow! Time flies. On Tuesday I will pass the three-week mark here in Spain. I just woke up not too long ago as last night was Fiesta Night! Wondering what a Fiesta is? It usually starts with a big dinner at around 10pm, followed by some drinks. At around 1 or 2 in the morning, you head to a few nightclubs and dance until around 6 or 7 in the morning. Afterwards, it is common for people to go for breakfast near the beach. Last night I only made it till 4 in the morning, but I still have plenty of time to build up my endurance.

A week ago, I had a dream that I left Spain still not speaking much Spanish. I made it my priority to find a way to take Spanish Lessons, and next week I’ll start with my first Spanish Lesson at a language school in downtown Alicante. It should work well as my current schedule at work allows for a 2-hour lunch break, and from now on, one of those hours will be a Spanish class. I hope to learn quickly since I’m always immersed in Spanish. All my co-workers speak Spanish, I have to occasionally read and translate Spanish documents, and the documents I produce are in Spanish as well.

Work at CYPE is really enjoyable so far! The working environment is great: everyone dresses casual, other engineers are always more than happy to help out when you run into problems, and the work is very self-driven. I am really surprised at how much responsibility and freedom I have after just two weeks here. I spent two days getting trained on how to use the software, was shown my desk, and was told to go through the American Steel Code (used to determine if steel structures in the USA are safe to build). CYPE’s software uses these codes to analyze CAD models of structures and report any problems to the user. In my first week, I found a few small errors in the code and began working with a programmer right away to fix them. In my second week, I was asked to train a new intern to use the same tools I was using to get his job done.

In other news, I’ve booked my first two trips!

From October 2-7, I’ll be travelling to Bologna, Pisa, and Florence with some co-workers. The round-trip flight from Alicante cost me 40 euros (although my friends got the fare for 20 euros), and we’ll be renting a car when we’re there so we can drive around and explore. Look for a post upon my return!

From November 21-24, I’ll be travelling to London and meeting up with some friends who are working in Switzerland. I managed to get this flight for only 20 euros with Ryanair 😉

While I haven’t booked it yet, I’m also planning to travel to Malta to spend Christmas with my family and friends for the first time in 18 years.

That’s all for now. Check back soon for more updates!