Waiting For The Bus


The need for an efficient public bus system in the city was first highlighted in the Ipoh Echo a year ago. It was then described that the half-century old bus system was suitable only for a Municipality, not a city which has expanded in size and population, covering a wider radius to include several burgeoning suburbs. Therefore, when the then Pakatan State Government under Menteri Besar Dato’ Seri Nizar Jamaluddin announced in September 2008 that it had entered into an agreement with a consortium known as the Combined Bus Services Sdn Bhd to provide 250 new buses over a three year period to replace the current fleet of ‘boneshaker buses’, Ipohites breathed a sigh of relief. They thought their woes for efficient public transportation would be over. But, they were in for a disappointment.

Slow Moving Implementation Raises Residents’ Ire

With the change of state government early last year, the implementation of the agreement did not appear to move fast. Since then only 10 of the “pink” buses belonging to the consortium are seen on the road, all plying the Ipoh-Kuala Kangsar route.

The agreement also stated the consortium would construct a new integrated bus terminal at the proposed new township, Meru Raya, to be known as Ipoh Central Transportation Hub and commission 30 new buses for service. The first ground breaking ceremony for this Hub was held in 2008 during the time of Dato Seri Nizar Jamaluddin and a second ground breaking ceremony officiated by Menteri Besar Dato’ Seri Zambry was conducted in February this year – a delay of two years with no actual construction in sight.

Service and Affordability
Ipoh without an LRT service has only the public bus and taxis to enable the man in the street to get around. A survey carried out by Ipoh Echo shows that members of the public chorused their complaints in unison that “the project needs to move faster.” All they wanted was improved service immediately, and a comfortable journey at an affordable cost. They were not interested in a new hub, only service and affordability.

Well-Known Problem
The problem of good bus transport in Ipoh is well known. Furthermore in the last 12 months residents had directly forwarded their woes during their “Turun Padang – Meet the People Sessions” with the city council.

It was also brought up at the monthly Ipoh City Council meeting by Councillor Shahul Hamid Mydin Shah (Zone 2 Kuala Kuang/ Chepor/ Meru). Shahul reported that his zone did not have any bus service after the operator stopped because the route was not profitable.

A follow-up with State Asemblymen Dato’ Rusnah Kassim (Hulu Kinta) and Dato’ Nazri Ismail (Manjoi) both from Tambun Parliamentary Constituency which covers Zone 2, revealed that both assemblymen had brought up the ‘bus’ issue in the State Assembly.

Dato’ Rusnah also added that the service from Ipoh to Tanjung Rambutan, although available was only “40% efficient” describing the service as unreliable as it did not have a firm schedule.

Artist’s rendering of Ipoh Sentral at Meru Raya

Is There A Solution In Sight?
According to Dato’ Abu Bakar, the director for UPEN, the agreement states that the introduction of new buses will only start once the Ipoh Central Bus Hub at Meru Raya is operational claiming this is part of the original agreement.

A check with the Corporate Director of Combined Bus Services Sdn Bhd (CBS) Dato’ Hiew Yew Can revealed that the building will be ready by September 2011 but operational around February 2012 and added that the work was on schedule which means that commuters will have to wait another 18 months.

Bus Service During the 60s
According to a resident, Chong (not his real name), who lived along Kampar Road in the late 60s, one could plan one’s journey then. Chong studied at St Michael’s Institution. There were two buses that passed by Kampar Road every 15 minutes. Both stopped at the Kidd Road Bus Station from where he would walk to school. The fare then was 15 to 20 sen.

Chong also remembers the bus inspector, an Indian with a wide brimmed hat, who used to do spot audits. In short, the quality of service then was reliable and affordable and got you to your destination on time. “You can’t say the same about the bus service now,” lamented Chong.

What Is Ailing The Industry?
According to “Razali” (who spoke on condition of anonymity) who is familiar with the industry since it started almost 70 years ago, the problems started when the Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board or LPKP started issuing bus permits to new operators on routes that were already being run by long time operators.

Unlike the older operators the new operators only serviced their routes during the peak times when there was large passenger load thus diluting the margins of the older operators. By contrast the older operators operated per their original schedules, whether peak or off peak and they did it well knowing that good service was the key to maintaining their customer base.

The profits from their operations were subsequently channelled to maintain bus shelters, bus stops and upgrading their buses. Unknowingly then, these private bus companies were providing a social responsibility to the community.

However, with the new operators diluting their earnings, the quality of their service gradually declined and today, is a far cry from the 60s’ standard of service.

Social Responsibility
According to Razali, LPKP had issued licenses to new operators as a business license not realising that this service was a social responsibility of the government. The government now realises this and early this year launched the Vision 2020 Roadmap Government Transformational Programme (GTP) based on the principles of 1Malaysia, People First and Performance Now under which Urban Public Transport is listed as one of six National Key Result Areas, (NKRA). The GTP will initially focus on the Klang Valley before proliferating to Penang and Johor.

However, based on the feedback highlighted during the Turun Padang sessions, Ipoh residents deserve a better connectivity immediately. Fortunately this sentiment is not just echoed by the commuters and state assemblymen but also by Senior Executive Councillor for Transport, Dato’ Dr. Mah Hang Soon himself who responded “we should move faster” when asked for his sentiments on this project.

Possible Solutions
According to Razali there is no way the new operators would want to surrender their licenses after putting in their capital investment. Thus a proposed short-term solution to overcoming the problem would be:

Freeze new applications of permits for overlapping routes. This was proposed a year ago by Perak Omnibus Owners Association Chairman Ms Yeoh Choo Hoon.
Upgrade the infrastructure. Bus shelters are available but bus stops have long been missing.
Review the bus routes and maintain tight time schedules.
Implement special bus lanes in the city to overcome traffic jams. This proposal was mentioned by Dato’ Dr. Mah Hang Soon last October.

For the medium term the solution would be to upgrade the buses while the long-term solution would be to erect a Bus Station.

Low passenger Loads
Regarding the non-profitable routes where operators refuse to operate, it was proposed that these routes be tendered out with the government subsidizing the operator on a per kilometre basis. In fact this subsidy proposal had already been offered by the Menteri Besar last year “to companies willing to service small towns which have low passenger loads”.

Hence with all these possible solutions being bandied about would it now be feasible for Ipohites to have a better bus service sooner? According to CBS Director Dato’ Hiew, “it would be possible but it would have to be negotiated with UPEN first”.

Hopefully when we do another review a year from now some boneshaker buses will be off the roads and the current no-service routes will have service.


11 thoughts on “Waiting For The Bus

  1. Public transport initiatives
    By: Datuk Seri Kong Cho Ha(Fri, 01 Apr 2011)

    1. To get more commuters to use public transport, we must first create the “pull factor” by ensuring it is reliable, comfortable, convenient and affordable for them and this will be our main focus.

    2. And the connectivity between the various modes of transport as well as reliable schedules, availability of parking spaces and safety are also important factors to encourage the usage of public transport.

    Sad to say, the Perak Transit fails in the very basic factor of affordability. Bus fares levied exceed KL counterparts: RapidKL fares start with RM1 and remain same for several kilometres or within its respective zone. However, Perak Transit starts with RM1.20 and increases after a few stops.

    Possibly it is due to such “unfriendly” fare system, the number of commuters is not encouraging. In fact, RapidKL has offered 20% discount over 3 months for commuters to utilize Torch&Go payment cards. Perak Transit would end up another failure for not able to pull in more commuters through fair pricing.

  2. Yes, Steven, you are right. :))

    If we have a more reliable bus service,
    many will rather go in the bus than drive.

  3. Irene, this mindset must change. Too many people think that taking the bus is for the poor. This kind of thinking is wrong because then those who are “rich” would not take the bus.

    No doubt, people from the low-income group are forced to take the bus. But for others, the bus can be more convenient than driving into the city centre, eg no need to look for parking space, no need to pay parking charges, etc.

    So there must be a “push” by the City Council for more people to take the bus. I know that the bus service is really bad at the moment. Those who don’t have their own cars and motorcycles to use have no choice but to suffer the horrible and old buses.

    However, when the situation changes (which will happen eventually), everyone must realize that the bus is meant for all and not just for the poor.

  4. One of the most basic infra-structures that should be available before a city status be awarded…
    Ease of human movement is pivotal in generating the economy. Cheap transportation for the masses for any city is a must.If people don’t move, business also doesn’t move. Economy becomes stagnant.

  5. As a regular user of the public bus service , i completely understand the frustration of the common people who use the bus service frequently. The true issue of the matter here is gross negligence and ignorance. As the bus companies are few and privately owned , they are not the least bothered in providing quality service as there is hardly any competition to compete with and provide good quality service. Let’s take a look at what quality service here means :
    1) safe drivers
    2) comfortable and clean buses
    3) friendly conductors and behind the counter service
    4) ON TIME , being punctual is important!!!
    5) user friendly buses that cater for the handicapped and elderly
    6) clearly displayed destinations
    7) simple journey maps put up at the bus station , inside the bus and at bus stops so that users are able to get to their destination easily

    Now these are just some simple steps that the bus companies could practice to provide the aforementioned good quality service. Just make a simple comparison to the Rapid KL and Rapid Penang. The buses do not even have conductors as the responsibility of issuing bus tickets is shouldered by the bus driver himself thanks to their modern electronic ticketing machine. As such , this feature is more economical for the bus companies. Unfortunately , Ipoh has been cursed with bus service that is so terribly bad to describe, i don’t even know where to begin with. From what i’ve noticed , this is what i can say about the current service :
    1) some of the buses are just not fit to be on the road despite being able to run. the thick black smoke that comes out of the tailpipe is not just a health hazard but environmentally threatening too.
    2) the buses are always filthy and reek of cigarette smoke. It must be noted here that although the ‘NO SMOKING’ sign is clearly displayed in the buses , the bus drivers themselves smoke and obliviously give other passengers the greenlight to do so.
    3) some of the buses are so old that riding in one is truly a “bone-rattling” experience. to add to that, the seats in the bus are not only uncomfortable but are also very cramped and cannot even seat 2 people comfortably. in fact for a 5 ft 10′ person like me , i can’t even walk without my head knocking the roof in some of these buses.
    4) its commonly known that a fuel filling station handphones are not permitted to be used. Imagine my horror when i see the in house fuel attendant at the medan kidd bus station happily chit chatting away on her handphone while filling the gas tank of a bus carrying a full load of people including young children and elderly people. my only regret on that day was not having my camera with me to take a picture of that incident.
    5) unsafe and rude drivers. though clearly aware that these buses have been on the road for decades, the bus drivers couldn’t care less when slamming the accelerator pedal to the floor. even with full load , these drivers still drive fast and do not heed the safety of the passengers. and many times i have witnessed the bus drivers getting down to argue with each other on their schedules and paths overlapping due to the greed of one driver who takes a longer time to complete his journey so that he gets more customers and are able to make stops at peak times where customers are plenty at a particular destination.this not only slows down our journey but also reflects poorly on the service provided by these companies.
    7) the buses are never on time and there is no particular map and schedule on display to help tourists and commoners decide on the buses to take to help them reach their destinations. due to the lack of a proper and effective schedule, the users are also in the dark as to how long they have to wait before the next bus comes along for them to get to their destination. this will lead them to ask for information from the counters available , but this again is pointless as they themselves have no clue when the next bus will be arriving.
    So it is with great disappointment that no matter how much is said and how many promises are made (and broken) , the bus service will never be upgraded as long as the bus service providers choose to stay blissfully ignorant to these issues at hand. nobody can really guarantee when our buses will be able to provide the kind of service we deem appropriate and promising every cent of our money’s worth. as steven has mentioned that these buses are private , i guess it would suffice to say that only intervention and enforcement can probably salvage the current dire situation. Perhaps , a royal intervention as the residents of Rapat Setia have had first hand experiencing in getting their problems solved is necessary.

  6. Best is, the bus driver just parks the bus at the bus-stop outside a coffee shop and have kopi with the conductor while the passengers just wait patiently in the bus…

  7. The transport service in Ipoh is horrendous. The drivers are damn rude and condition of the buses are terrible. I wonder why the Transport Ministry is not doing anything…..It 2010 and yet our Public Transport in Ipoh is still in Jurassic World.

  8. I drive but off and on have to use the bus and am fed up with the service to Pasir Puteh. I came back from Butterworth at 6.30 p.m. and the only stop was at Medan Gopeng. Tbere was not one town bus plying – I waited for almost an hour and then gave up and was forced to use the taxi! During the days when the bus set off from Medan Kidd this was never the problem! How are the lower income group going to survive???

  9. It’s rather comical yet depressing that in 2010 Ipoh is still grappling with public transport problems which belong way back in the last century. In Shenzhen they have introduced electric buses and taxis to reduce pollution. Also the metro is extended to cover the whole city. Public transport is cheap and efficient here.
    To Mah Hang Soon’s suggestion for dedicated bus lanes, may I say that this is not a new idea. Bus lanes do not work UNLESS you can keep them free of other vehicles. In Shenzhen what they do is equip buses with cameras which can take photos of any vehicle in front which can be automatically transmitted to the police station so that offending vehicles which should not be on the bus lanes can be dealt with. They are moving ahead very quickly because there is no petty politics.

    I agree with Steven that the root cause of the problem is political. Even so, I am sure with better planning Ipoh can have a public transport system which its citizens deserve. In the first instance I would like to comment that Ipoh Central at Meru Raya is a misnomer. It is anything but central. Secondly regarding the location there was no public consultation whatsoever on the suitability – the PR government stitched up a deal with a group of businessmen and the result foisted on the people.

    On the question of old buses, I note that some buses in Ipoh hark back to my school days – or seem to be. They are rust buckets belching black smoke – a danger to both passengers and other road users.
    It may be too big a step for Ipoh to try to follow Shenzhen but it is not too big a step to follow Penang. Since the introduction of Rapid Penang, which runs on the same routes as the Hin company (and other private operators) buses I have seen the old Hin buses slowly dying out because they cannot compete. Firstly Rapid Penag has new airconditioned buses, secondly the drivers are very polite and helpful, thirdly the buses are clean. In just three years Penang’s public transport has improved beyond recognition. Learn from Penang.
    Ipoh should do the same. Have a professionally managed bus company (I believe the central govt. helped in starting Rapid Penang) compete directly with the present bus operators. Within a short time the old bus companies will close down unless they improve, because the public will not use the old bangers if they have a choice.
    The road transport department should seriously look into the road worthiness of these old bangers. If it did its job properly these old buses would have been off the road by now.

  10. The root causes of this issue (not just in Ipoh but throughout Malaysia) are that 1. bus operators are private, and 2. issuance of bus permits is very much political.

    There is absolutely nothing that local councils can do since the bus operators don’t come under their jurisdictions. Permits and routes are approved by Federal ministries that have no idea what is happening locally.

    So all this talk by the State Exco, Datuk Bandar, Ipoh Councilors, UPEN, ADUN’s, MP’s, etc, is rather pointless. Pressure should be directed at the Federal ministries and the ministers concerned.

    At this moment, SPAD (Land Public Transport Commission) is being formed. The Commission has already been established by law but it takes time to find people to fill up the posts in the Commission. So in the meantime, it is very likely nothing will happen.

    Ipoh Sentral at Meru Raya is out of the way. The place is more suitable for express buses rather than local buses. The current bus terminal (known as the ‘bus stand’) is strategically located albeit contributing to some traffic jam at the round-about.

    However, the bus terminal is privately owned. There are no fair-competition laws in Malaysia that can compel the owner to allow other bus operators to use it. For example, Perak Roadways has to use their own terminal a short distance away.

    Razali claimed that LPKP is issuing permits to new bus operators for current routes. He should be able to name the routes if this happened. As far as I know, all the bus operators have been plying their routes for a long time.

    In recent years, General was issued a permit to ply the Ipoh-Kuala Kangsar route. The permit was not renewed and the company has been bought over by Reliance which has common owners with Ipoh Omnibus and PerakTransit.

    A couple of bus operators have been plying the lucrative Ipoh-Ipoh Garden route. The bus operators has approved bus permits but not to ply this route and are doing it illegally.

    Even if this was true, business competition should have made bus operators to buck up. They complain about business encroachment but do nothing to upgrade their buses and service level so that users will prefer to use their bus service. People are not stupid and will support the better service provider.

    Bus operators complain about not making profits but still hold on to their permits and deny new bus operators the chance. Why?

    It is not just new bus operators that only operate during peak hours. All bus operators do the same. It is the pot calling the kettle black! Forget about social responsibility, none of the bus operators, old or new, do it.

    The problem with this issue is that 99% of the people involved are not bus users. I have been to official meetings on this issue where I am the only person (sometimes with one or two others) who still use public transport. The rest all drive! The real bus users don’t have a voice in these meetings and discussions.

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