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Sunday, 24 February 2013

Gibraltar

The rock of Gibraltar towers dramatically over the coast of the Mediterranean.  As a British Overseas Territory, it is under British jurisdiction although for domestic affairs it is self-governing.  Sovereignty over Gibraltar has been an ongoing bone of contention with neighbouring Spain, from whom Gibraltar was captured in 1704.

Gibraltar itself covers less than 7 square kilometres.  It has a land border with Spain to the north, but is otherwise surrounded by the sea.  Home to around 30,000 people, Gibraltar has one of the highest rates of car ownership per head of population.  Traffic congestion can be a problem.


Public transport in Gibraltar is provided by eight bus routes.  Seven of these are operated by the Gibraltar Bus Company, owned by the Gibraltar government, while the eighth is operated by Calypso Transport.









A batch of small single-deck buses forms the majority of Gibraltar Bus Company's fleet.  These operate on five routes.  The winding nature of Gibraltar's streets means that larger buses would be unable to operate over certain sections of route, including parts of the city centre.

 
 

 















Route 2 reaches the southernmost tip of Gibraltar, at Europa Point.  Although this is sometimes claimed to be the southernmost point on mainland Europe, this isn't quite true - the Spanish coastal town of Tarifa, across the bay from Gibraltar, is marginally further south.







Trinity House is the lighthouse authority for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar.  Europa Point is the only lighthouse on Gibraltar, thus it is the only Trinity House site on the Mediterranean.









Smaller vehicles are used on route 1, which serves the upper town where the roads are narrow and twisting even compared to elsewhere in Gibraltar.

 









Unlike the larger single-deckers, the minibuses have two doors.  The rear door provides access for passengers with buggies and wheelchairs.


The smallest vehicles of all are used on route 7, which runs from the city to a residential care home at Mount Alvernia.

A simple notice in the windscreen identifies this as a route 7 bus.










Gibraltar Bus Company services operated free of charge from 2011, for about a year.  Free travel was then abolished with fares being charged once more.  The fare structure simple - an adult single fare is £1, while an all-day "hoppa" ticket is £1.50.  Euros are also accepted (€1.30 single, €2 all day "hoppa").  Fares are paid to the bus driver.  Routes operate generally operate from 07:00 to 21:00, seven days a week.  Timetable summaries are shown on the Gibraltar Bus Company website.

Calypso Transport, using the fleetname Citibus, operate route 5 from the city centre to the frontier and the airport terminal.  A mix of single-deck and double-deck vehicles is operated.  Buses run every 10-15 minutes (every 20 minutes on Sundays) from early morning until 21:00.




 











Most of the double-deckers look to be second-hand vehicles previously used in Berlin.  These vehicles have two staircases for faster loading and unloading.

The road from Gibraltar to the frontier has a level crossing.  This is no ordinary level crossing, since it does not cross railway tracks.  The road crosses the middle of the airport runway.  It closes when aircraft are landing or taking off.  Buses on route 5 cross the runway to reach the frontier terminus, which is close to the airport terminal building.




When I visited in February 2013, some of the more interesting double-deckers were parked out of use at the coach park, which is also Calypso Transport's operating base.



The double-deck fleet includes open-top vehicles although these also appeared to be out of use for the winter season.


Calypso Transport's fares are the same as on Gibraltar Bus Company - £1/€1.30 for a single journey, £1.50/€2 for an all-day "hoppa" ticket.  However, the "hoppa" tickets are not interchangeable between the two operators.  If you want to travel on the services of both the Gibraltar Bus Company and Calypso Transport, you have to buy two tickets.

I have not been able to find an up-to-date map showing Gibraltar's bus routes, so I have drawn one of my own to help make sense of what runs where:






In common with a growing number of cities around the world, Gibraltar operated a cycle hire scheme although you have to be a member to use it.  The cycle hire scheme is operated by Gibraltar Bus Company.

Notice the British-style red telephone kiosk in the background.





In many of the places I have visited, open-top double-deck buses are used on sightseeing tours.  That isn't the case in Gibraltar where some of the main places of interest are high up on the rock, accessed by narrow, winding roads which are unsuitable for large vehicles.  Small minibuses are used by Gibraltar's sightseeing tour operators.

This image shows a minibus of Calypso Tours (part of the group which operates bus route 5) parked outside the airport.







The top of the rock is also accessible by cable car, which operates daily all year round from a station slightly south of the city centre.



















 
No article about Gibraltar would be complete without a picture of the rock's well-known residents, the barbary apes.










The Spanish town of La Línea lies just the other side of the frontier.  Some of Gibraltar's workforce lives in La Línea.  Yet there are no scheduled services across the frontier between Gibraltar and Spain.  Although the Schengen Agreement has abolished border controls across most of the European Union (along with Switzerland, Norway and Iceland), Gibraltar is neither a signatory to the agreement nor part of the European customs union.  Passport and customs controls are maintained at the border.

Coaches cross the border on tours and excursions, but passengers travelling from Gibraltar into Spain may be required to disembark and walk across the border (carrying their belongings with them) to complete customs and entry formalities before re-boarding the coach.  These formalities, along with the difficulty in maintaining a timetabled service in the face of traffic queues both at the border and at the runway crossing, undoubtedly explain the lack of cross-border services between Gibraltar and Spain.  La Línea is the subject of a separate post, click here.

Coincidentally, buses in Gibraltar are covered by an article in the March 2013 edition of Buses magazine.

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