Waiting for the bus
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
IT’S Monday and a female foreign worker can be seen hurrying her way to a bus stop to be able to go to work on time. But today like any other day, the bus is not cooperating, it was nowhere in sight. With no list of schedules to tell her what time the next bus will arrive, the only thing she can do is to wait.
This scenario is repeated in almost all bus stops throughout the sultanate. It’s an issue that has caught the attention of government officials who vowed to put an end to the problem.
Director Dr Hj Supry Hj Ladi of the Land Transport Department’s said that recent studies showed about 70 per cent of bus riders are non-locals.
In 2015, the LTD revealed a total ridership of 2.48 million. These figures are an increase of about 0.8 per cent from ridership in 2014.
The LTD said they are setting a target for a one per cent increase in ridership by the end of the year. “We know this target may seem low, but we believe it is realistic in view of the fact that some existing buses still do not adhere to the stated schedules, and do not provide consistent service especially outside of the Bandar Seri Begawan area, as well as there being no significant increase in the number of buses and routes introduced,” Dr Hj Supry said.
The LTD has acknowledged the need for an overhaul, and is hoping to launch the public bus system next year which will focus on connectivity and reliability.
Dr Hj Supry said the new main bus route network being designed targets around 70 per cent connectivity to major destinations in the Brunei-Muara district, compared to the existing bus route network. There will also be improved connectivity in the Kuala Belait/Seria area, with the introduction of five routes compared to the existing solo route. In the Temburong and Tutong districts, there will be two new routes introduced and an increase in inter-district bus services to five from the existing two.
The LTD is also going to introduce feeder bus services from major residential areas throughout the country that will further increase accessibility for citizens to join the main bus route network to their desired destinations.
Dr Hj Supry said the new public bus service network is part of the Ministry of Communications’ Brunei Public Transport Systems Transformation Project, aimed at having a regulated, connected and reliable public transport system.
“We must understand that the definition of connectivity here is the network of bus services that connects important places, public amenities, government departments, places of work, commercial areas including its inter-connectivity to air, sea and cross border transport, as well as public accessibility to bus route networks,” he said.
To ensure reliability of the new public bus system, there are plans to introduce dedicated lanes ideal for buses to ensure they do not get stuck in traffic, especially during peak hours, said Dr Hj Supry, adding plans are in place to have a Bus Intelligent Transport Systems, and integrated fare ticketing system installed in all buses.
In a recent interview, Communications Minister Yang Berhormat Dato Seri Setia Hj Mustappa Hj Sirat said their objective for the transportation transformation is to create reliability which is important within any transportation system. “We want the buses to arrive at a certain distance within a certain time. But there are challenges and one of these is that our infrastructure was not initially designed for that. However, we have to start somewhere and improve upon the infrastructure over time.”
Dr Hj Supry said with these pull-factors and a well-connected route network and reliable service, the department believes that ridership will increase over time.
They are also targeting for those who own cars to consider using buses as an alternative mode of transport with value for money.
Thirty-six year-old Aminah Lamat took the public bus system here once in her life when she was 16. Now that she older, she is keen to ride the bus to and from work if she sees an improvement in the reliability of the vehicles being on time. Amina drives to work daily from Jalan Muara to Jerudong.
“Currently, there is not much public awareness of this new bus system which will be introduced next year. There should also be a website on bus schedules since everyone is into technology and can easily access the schedules from their phones,” she said.
Two residents, who asked to be named Mike and Jimmy, both in their late 20s, welcomed the move of the government to overhaul the public bus transportation system.They said this will be a positive development especially for tourists and is hoped the introduction of more buses and routes will bring about visitors to the country.
“I was cycling past one of the hotels in the capital the other day and saw a tourist waiting for the bus at the bus stop just outside the hotel. It seemed like that tourist had no idea if the bus would ever come as there no signs for bus schedules,” Jimmy said.
Mike said he hopes the improved bus services will serve tourists efficiently and get them around to destinations promptly. “I also heard that there will be free shuttle services from the airport to all landmark destinations. That will be great for our tourists if it comes to fruition,” he said.
YB Dato Hj Mustappa said the transformation of the transport sector will also create more opportunities for Bruneians, as they are looking to hire more bus drivers, all who are required to be Bruneians.
“At the same time, we are encouraging foreign investments to come in and create more opportunities for Bruneians, both for the bus and taxi services. We are trying to develop the transport sector and we would like the investors to come forward and suggest to us what kind of investment will be suitable for their purpose, where the terms and conditions will be subject to negotiations,” he said.
He explained all these investments will be on a public-private partnership basis. “These investors can look into the bus operations, the development of interchanges and terminals.”
Currently, Dr Hj Supry said there are about 100 local bus drivers and that they plan to hire 300 more locals once the new bus service kicks off.
YB Dato Hj Mustappa said they will look into elevating these numbers incrementally. “As temporary measure, we have to make do with the foreign bus drivers, but eventually it is our intention that all the bus drivers are Bruneians.”
He added they are in the process of setting up bus-driving schools in Brunei. “The tender is being processed and there will be institutions where Bruneians can go into to learn how to drive buses.”
The Brunei Times