No such thing as a free lunch?

The Borneo Post - - THOUGHTS & OPINIONS - Com­ments can reach the writer via colum­[email protected] the­bor­neo­

To­day, we have a guest col­umn by Aun­tie Di. She’s get­ting all ex­cited about this free bus that’s about to be launched, so let her have her say!

Un­cle Di THAT’S what they tell us any­way – noth­ing in life is free. But there are al­ways ex­cep­tions. It is pleas­ant to learn that, in Kuching at any rate, there will soon be a free bus. It’s meant mainly to take tourists around the place, but ‘de­tails are still be­ing worked out’.

Just watch your lo­cal news­pa­per. Of course we have all seen such free buses in for­eign coun­tries. In many towns over­seas, there is a free bus ser­vice cruis­ing the cen­tral busi­ness district; the larger shops con­trib­ute to the cost of main­tain­ing it be­cause it is in their in­ter­est that lots of peo­ple come into town rather than shop in sub­ur­ban mega-malls.

KL of­fers free buses too, with great suc­cess. Two routes serve those parts of town which are hard to reach by LRT, and the buses are al­ways packed! Packed with peo­ple, whether they are tourists or lo­cals. The pur­pose is to keep cars off the roads, and in this way they help to re­duce traf­fic jams.

When we lived at Batu 6, I of­ten took the bus to get to the Gen­eral Post Of­fice part of town, an area then no­to­ri­ously short of park­ing spa­ces. The var­i­ous buses from Pen­ris­sen, Bau and Se­rian would stop and take on any­one who stood at the bus stop in front of the For­est Depart­ment re­search sta­tion, so the wait was never long.

Kuching had a free bus once, ar­tis­ti­cally dis­guised to re­sem­ble a tram (no idea why – Kuching never had trams). The quaint ve­hi­cle trun­dled around town for a few months, but it was dis­con­tin­ued af­ter a short ca­reer. As far as I re­mem­ber, it was hardly ever full.

The tourists just did’t cot­ton on to it, and the lo­cals weren’t sup­posed to use it. No­body ever ex­plained why, or how the driver was sup­posed to dis­tin­guish who was who. I used the ‘tram’ a few times and I am cer­tainly not a tourist!

The Min­is­ter of Tourism has just an­nounced that this time we’ll do it bet­ter, brighter, more cre­atively. Yes, there will be a free bus ser­vice, and yes it will be avail­able to all tourists whether for­eign or lo­cal. That’s go­ing to give the poor driver a few headaches again.

How does he know that Mrs Ong from Kenyalang Park is just do­ing her shop­ping in town, but her sis­ter Mrs Yong is from Sibu, vis­it­ing the fam­ily in Kuching for a few days? And if he does find out, by in­ten­sive ques­tion­ing, that Mrs Ong is not a tourist, will he order her off the bus? When the new bus is ready to roll, let’s be truly in­clu­sive.

A good mother feeds her own chil­dren first, and then cares for needy neigh­bours. Same thing here – a good town caters for the trans­port needs of her own peo­ple first, and then the es­teemed vis­i­tors.

I hope ev­ery­body will be al­lowed to jump on board and en­joy the ride. One thing about the new bus wor­ries me a lit­tle. It will not be any old Kuching blue-and-grey with a fresh coat of paint; our new bus will be pow­ered by a hy­dro­gen fu­el­cell. Our new bus will be Green, Eco-Friendly, Sus­tain­able, ZeroEmis­sion, Low-Carb – oops, I got my buzz words mixed up, but it will be the lat­est in clean tech­nol­ogy.

So, what is there to worry about? Main­te­nance and re­pairs, that’s what. Do the stal­wart mo­tor me­chan­ics of Kuching know how to deal with this new type of ma­chine? Or will they stand sadly around a stranded Free Bus, span­ners at the ready, but not re­ally sure which nut to tighten, or loosen, or what­ever? Is the fuel cell some­thing you can re­fuel lo­cally by hold­ing it un­der a tap, or will re­place­ments be needed from time to time? And if any sec­tion of the ve­hi­cle needs a spare part, where will it come from and how long will it take to come? ‘Wait­ing for spare part’ is one of the favourite ex­cuses when do­mes­tic or car re­pairs take too long!

Two things are im­por­tant if our Free Bus is to be suc­cess­ful: firstly, the route has to be care­fully planned, and very clearly pub­li­cised. It will pass all the ma­jor ho­tels, the Main Bazaar is a must (two stops, one at each end?), the Mu­seum, ‘the sights’ gen­er­ally, food cen­tres, a few shop­ping malls be­cause tourists, and all the lo­cals who hop on board, love shop­ping!

For the sake of our tourists, there needs to be a map with brief notes of the at­trac­tions to be vis­ited from each stop. Stops have to be very clearly marked, and sited where peo­ple ac­tu­ally want to board and leave the bus, not half a mile down the road.

Se­condly, the buses have to stick to a sched­ule. Say they do a round once an hour, a vis­i­tor who gets off at the Cat Mu­seum will know that he has 55 min­utes to en­joy the plethora of fe­line de­lights, and then he can catch the next bus.

Tourist or not, peo­ple get an­noyed if they sit in a bus stop for ages and no bus comes – And now, keep an eye open for de­vel­op­ments! We are all look­ing for­ward to a natty bus tak­ing happy peo­ple round our lovely town; hope the wait won’t be too long!

GoKL is a pub­lic bus ser­vice that of­fers free rides for com­muters within the Cen­tral Busi­ness District of Kuala Lumpur.

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