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.
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.
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.
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.
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.