The evolution of transport in malta

From the horse to the cart, trams and buses, the history of transport in Malta is an interesting and varied one


Sedan chair

Up to the the mid 1800s, the only means of human transport in Malta was the horse, cart or kaless; a cabin on a pair of large wheels. The ‘priveleged’ also used the sedan chair. Known as ‘is-suggetta’, the grand enclosed vehicle required two strong men, who were often harnessed, to carry it.



In 1856, the very first omnibus was brought to the island. It carried 16 passengers and made just three daily trips. The company began operating on the Lija-Valletta route in 1857 and  also began operating a St. Julians-Valletta route, just a week later.


Malta railway

By 1883, however, the Malta Railway, a single railway line from Valletta to Mdina, began operating. The only railway line to ever exist in Malta, it was a single track line in meter-gauge and operated all the way up until 1931, when it was closed due to ‘economic insufficiency.’


tram passing through paola

In 1905, a tram service was also inaugurated, which linked the Three Cities (Birgu, Senglea and Bormla), Birkirkara and Zebbug. With two floors, 20 passengers could be seated and the rest, the majority of which were farmers carrying fresh fruit and live chickens, would be standing. The upper floor could accommodate up to 18 seated passengers, however no standing passengers were allowed due to the overhead electric wires.


The service was terminated in 1929. Enter: buses; the primary method of public transport in Malta. A primitive service commenced in 1905 and led to the eventual downfall of the tram. A certain Mr Spiller was granted the permission to import buses from the UK, to run between St. Andrew and Valletta. Due to Malta being a naval base at the time, a mode of transport was crucial


valletta-st. julian's double decker

Initially, 6 buses were imported and later, another 20 seven-seater single decker buses, and 30 six-seater double decker buses began running between Valletta and St. Julians. Over time, even more were imported and in 1921, a Public Transport Co. was formed. Just 9 years later, there were 385 licensed route buses running.


After the 1971 General Elections, there was a reorganisation, for all route buses to amalgamate into one group, in order for all bus owners to receive the same income. Following protests and strikes, the final decision was made for 3 groups to be formed, each under the control of a committee. This led to more issues, as competition between bus drivers was rife, often resulting in 40-seater buses being loaded with more than 70 passengers!


Three years later, by 1977, all route buses began operating in one group. A centralised office called Assocjazzjoni Trasport Pubbliku (ATP) was formed, under the control of a committee elected by bus owners every two years.


traditional maltese bus

In 1995, the buses were painted yellow with an orange stripe. The ATP operated a total of 508 buses, all the way up until 2011. Then, a major restructure of the bus service occurred, which resulted in Arriva taking over. During the process, several of the old buses were either scrapped, kept by their owners for private use, converted into souvenir buses over time, or transferred to other companies such as Heritage Malta.



Arriva’s service, however, only lasted till 2014, when the Malta Public Transport Services Limited began operating the public transport. By 2015, Autobuses Urbanos de Leon began operating. By mid-2015, the Tallinja card was launched, allowing travelers to pay as they go.


Which brings us to today. Nowadays, we have countless options to choose from, where transport is concerned. In addition to hopping on a bus, locals and foreigners alike can also opt for taxis, car-sharing, pay-as-you-go bicycles, e-bikes and scooters. You can hire a car, rent a motorbike, hop on a ferry or even catch a water taxi.

Depending on your budget and where exactly it is you’d like to travel to, the Islands are ready to meet and surpass your every expectation.