Rapid Penang can track the movement of its buses from its control centre in Lorong Kulit
Rapid Penang is now equipped with GPS (Global Positioning System), which enables it to track the movement of its buses around Penang.
The next phase involves setting up display boards in selected locations which would enable the public to know when the next bus is due to arrive. When I visited the Rapid Penang head office a few weeks ago, I was told that they had submitted an application to set up these display boards, but I am not sure what’s holding it up. I was impressed with its chief executive officer Azhar Ahmad, who appeared competent and friendly and seemed to be thinking ahead.
I hope the state government and Rapid Penang, which is owned by the federal government, will work together to implement this as soon as possible in the interest of commuters.
In the long run, each bus-stop should have a display board, telling passengers how long more they have to wait for the bus to arrive.
But it is also important to get the basics right. Simple bus route maps – with major stops indicated – and bus schedules at each bus-stop.
Rapid Penang is supposed to take delivery of another 200 new buses over the coming months. Contracts for new buses must be transparent and awarded through open tender. Let’s hope these are reliable buses equipped with facilities catering to people with disabilities. But for this to work, bus-stops and pavements leading to the bus-stops must also be disabled friendly. The approach pavements and the bus-stops must pass the ‘wheelchair test’.
The overall structure of bus services in Penang needs to be improved. How to handle all those private bus firms? No one can deny that Rapid Penang, a federal government-owned entity, has forced the private companies – long providing deplorable services to the public – to raise their level of service.
In the long run, there should be a state-owned bus corporation – with regulatory enforcement powers – managing all the bus operators in the state, whether public or private. The Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board has not performed; so its regulatory function should be taken over by this new state-owned bus corporation. Rapid Penang itself should be transferred from the federal government to fall under the purview of the new state-owned bus corporation. A flagship Rapid Penang service should be the core of the bus service in Penang and be the benchmark for private bus companies to emulate.
Why a state-owned bus corporation? It is only the local authorities in Penang that would know best what the local needs are and which routes are desperately needed – whether profitable or not.
Above all, public transport should be seen as an essential public service. It is a vital component in reducing congestion on the roads and our reliance on fossil fuels.
A director of a multinational corporation told me that much of the congestion on the existing Penang Bridge could be reduced if there was a shuttle bus service transporting commuters to and from major bus hubs on the mainland and the island. It’s worth a thought.