A Malta bus (xarabank, karozza tal-linja) is both the bus used for public transport on the Mediterranean island of Malta, and also a major tourist attraction on the island, due to their unique appearance grounded in the bus ownership and operation model employed on Malta. In particular, Malta has several bus types that are no longer in service anywhere else in the world.
The unique nature of the Malta bus stems from the tradition of local ownership of the buses by the drivers, and their historic practice of customising them. In addition to a high degree of customisation, detailing and decoration, several Malta buses also have a unique appearance due to the practice of in-house maintenance, rebuilding or modifying of bus bodies in local workshops.
As an iconic feature of the island, the classic Malta bus features on several tourist related items. As the main mode of public transport on the island, the Malta bus is also used by many tourists to visit the different parts of the island. While newer Malta buses follow standard bus designs found elsewhere, customisation and detailing has continued for these buses too.
In the 1920s, operation of buses on public transport routes was subject to open competition between operators, and as such, buses used were not necessarily well turned out. With the formation of the Traffic Control Board in 1931, greater regulation and discipline of the system meant that operators began to upgrade the appearance of their buses. Since then, the tradition of showing pride in the vehicles has been maintaind, through decoration and customisation of the buses.
Since reform in the 1970s, bus operation was centralised under a public authority, the Public Transport Association, or Assoċjazzjoni Transport Pubbliku (ATP), in Maltese, producing a unified timetable roster and basic livery, although this did not change the ownership arrangments for the buses.
There are approximately 500 Malta buses on Malta, operated on a day on day off basis, whereby one day half of the buses operate on the public routes, while the other half are used for private hire, or as a school buses.
Malta buses on public transport duties can be seen in high concentrations at the main bus terminus at Valletta, where the vast majority of scheduled routes depart from. Other major centres of traffic include Buġibba, St. Paul's Bay, Sliema and Mosta.
The ATP authority determines the schedules, which are operated by the private bus owners, who remain responsible for the condition and upkeep of their buses, either as owner operators, or in groups. Several buses are kept at the family homes of the drivers in question.
Early buses wore an olive green livery with a black stripe. In the 1930s, buses were painted different colours according to the route they operated. Malta buses are now liveried in a yellow (lower) and white (upper) livery, relieved by a red band just below the window line.
All Malta buses are single-deckers either with bus or coach bodies. Early buses do not have many common transit bus features, with route indication achieved using white number cards. Later buses have modern features, such as electronic destination displays.
Very early types of bus can still be found, with a front engine mounted in an extended bonneted nose, in the style of some conventional trucks. The majority of classic Malta buses have elaborate grilles and headlight arrangements, curved windscreens and sloping roofs. Later makes of bus are usually of conventional bus and coach designs that are or were in use elsewhere in the world, such as the Duple Dominant. Many Malta buses are now modern low-floor bus designs.
Malta buses are characterised by their high level of customisation and detailing. Common additions to buses include:
Due to the nature of operation of Malta buses, many of the drivers are also mechanics, and a high number of Malta buses proudly display the name of the manufacturer of the chassis or body of the bus, or the engine type used. In some instances though, these names are not actually the name of the bus in question.