No such thing as a free lunch?
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.