Currently, bus is the main public transportation in the city of Kota Kinabalu. Despite being perceived as less comfortable, less physically attractive, non-punctual and unsafe, it still functioning to bring passengers to their destinations. This research paper aims to provide a critical overview of the public bus importance at the past, present and future time. It is crucial to identify the reason why bus is important in providing commuting service to the citizen since this information is a useful input to the policy maker. The reasons for its importance are discussed together with several issues such as public bus current level of performance, increasing number of private vehicle on road and the absence of specific plan to improve public bus transportation. This study is qualitative in nature where data were mostly derived from observation and secondary sources. The preliminary study’s findings showed public bus is an important mode of public transportation in Kota Kinabalu in the past and the present and is likely to continue to be so in the foreseeable future due to the demand from the low income earners, wide destination coverage and concern for the increasing price of car fuel as well as to traffic congestion problem. Therefore, the government should seriously consider the bus in the public transportation planning by providing specific plan for its future development.
Keywords: public transportation system, public bus, public transport planning
Tran and Kleiner (2005) cited in Belwal and Belwal (2010), public transportation is defined as transportation by a conveyance that provides continuing general or special transportation to the public; excluding school buses, charter and sightseeing service. An efficient transportation system is one of the basic components of the social, economic, and physical structure in the urbanized society and it has to be competitive and attractive to the transit seekers (Ibid). It is essential for every government all over the world to develop better transportation system for its citizens. Better system is a system that is able to provide affordable, attractive, comfortable, punctual and safe commuting services to the citizens. According to Nandi (2008), an ideal transport system is a system that had been fully integrated, able to provide safe transport network, supports social and economic regeneration and ensures good access for all which, is operated to the highest standards to protect the environment and ensure quality of life. It is a dream for every government and citizen to have efficient transportation system. To realize the dream, continuous effort should be made. Long run strategy should be to manage for the growth of transport demand to provide for the efficient movement of people and goods. Bus service is indeed important since it provides mobility for all since many people do not have access to cars it is also increase person capacity in heavily traveled corridors and it preserves urban land for more productive use and is more energy efficient than driving (Levinson, 2000). In his study, bus is not only providing line-haul and feeder services, offer special transit service for the elderly and handicapped and in the very large cities but they also complement and feed rail transit lines. In United State of America, public transportation is commonly associated with the nation’s major urban-area subway (heavy-rail) or commuter-rail systems, approximately 59 percent of all public transportation trips are carried on buses (Cambridge Systematics Inc, 2008). Therefore, maintaining and improving bus service will be essential in keeping urban areas vital and vibrant in the years ahead. The basic purpose to develop the public transportation is to help the citizens to make a trip easily and ensure the normal operation of fundamentals social organizations and their activities as well as brings enhancements to the city environment in a quite comprehensive range. ()
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At the moment in Malaysia, significant improvement on public transportation had only been seen in several main cities such as Kuala Lumpur and Pulau Pinang. The difference of these cities from the others is that, apart from having various option of modern transportation such as LRT and Monorail System, they also have an integrated bus system namely RapidKL and RapidPenang which are characterized by attractive appearance, strict monitoring system, standardization and reliable schedule. In the city of Kota Kinabalu, the capital city of Sabah, bus is the main public transportation. However, public bus performance is below par in terms of comfort, physical appearance, punctuality and safety. It is believed that the effective and robust public bus transportation service provision is crucial and necessary in realizing the objective of the 6th National Key Result Area (NKRA) which is aimed to increase the utilization rate and to sustain the Malaysia transport system (Jayaraman et. al., 2011). Public bus transportation is important not only to provide commuting services to the people but also facilitate the growth of economy in a city. It creates accessibility to business to market their goods and services. Since the last three decades, government at federal, state and local levels has formulated and implemented various plans to improve public transportation but there is still no significant improvement have been seen on the bus service. In addition, the increasing number of private cars on roads shows the shift in preference of people from using a public bus into driving their own personal car.
The aim of this paper is to provide critical overview of the importance of public bus. This finding is important for planning purpose. Since there are very few studies deeply discussed about its importance, the findings will contribute to the body knowledge in the public bus literature. The public transportation available in Kota Kinabalu city is only public bus and taxi. The fact that, the public bus is more utilized by the public because of its lower cost indicates its importance.
Since the last three decades, government at federal, state and local levels has formulated and implemented various plan to improve public transportation in Kota Kinabalu City but there is still no significant improvement can be been seen especially relating to the bus service. Furthermore, the increasing number of private cars on roads shows the shift in preference of people from using a public bus into driving their own personal car. The question is why this happen? Is bus not as important to the local residents as it use to be? The aim of this paper is to provide critical overview of the importance of public bus to the people. The finding of this research is important for policy planning purpose. Besides, it provides the body knowledge in bus transportation literature since there is only few study deeply discussed about its importance. It is believed that the effective and robust public bus transportation service provision is crucial and necessary in realizing the objective of the 6th NKRA which is aimed to increase the utilization rate and to sustain the Malaysia transport system (Jayaraman et. al., 2011).
For data collection, the methodology used in this study was limited to observation and secondary data only. The observation method was conducted on daily basis from 1st August 2012 to 15st September 2012. Large amount of information was collected from local newspaper report especially from Sabah Times, Daily Express and Borneo Post. Official documents such as policy statements were part of the data collected. Through these methods, thorough analyses regarding the importance of public bus in Kota Kinabalu at the present and future time were made.
REASONS FOR IMPORTANCE OF PUBLIC BUS TRANSPORTATION IN KOTA KINABALU
Demands from Low Income Earner
Low-income groups tend to use their car relatively less often (Steg, 2003). In the city of Kota Kinabalu, the bus service is highly demanded by the low income earner (monthly income below RM2300) although the public bus service is poor in terms of comfort, punctuality and safety. In the 1990s, bus was considered important because few people could afford to buy car. Presently, bus is still needed by the low income earners. Owning car has been greatly facilitated recently through simpler car loan procedure. However, although this facilitated the low and medium income earners to own car, some of them may still do not want to buy car because of other important commitments such as household expenditure and utility expenditure. As a result, they still need to take bus to go to their workplace and even for outing purposes. Thus, bus is important to their daily life. In Kota Kinabalu, certain residential areas which are populated mostly by low income earners such as Kuala Menggatal, Taman Indah Permai, Taman Sri Maju, Universiti Apartment Phase 1 and Phase 2 are relying on the bus service for transportation. Daily observation that had been made on 1st August 2012 until 1st September 2012 at these residential areas, it was found that most of residents work as laborers, chefs, nurses, salespersons, promoters and waiters used bus to go to the workplace.
Wide Destination Coverage
Public bus has wider destinations coverage encompassing both the urban and sub-urban areas compared to LRT and Monorail, which have fixed routes. Therefore their destination coverage is limited. The bus has important role not only to accommodate the transport needs of the increasing commuters but also as feed as in routes not covered by these modern transportation systems. Eventhough in Kuala Lumpur modern transportation networks namely Kereta Api Tanah Melayu (KTM), Monorail System and LRT, pub bus is still being used to take passengers to the KTM, LRT and Monorail stations and terminals. Due to the need of feeder service and to improve the existing public transportation system, RapidKL was then decided in 2004, took over the main part of transportation in the city. In Kota Kinabalu, bus is important in the absence of modern transportation and the role it plays will become challenging once the modern rail system introduced. The table show below indicates the zones covered by the public bus transportation at Kota Kinabalu in 2006.
Concern to the Price of Car Fuel
The concern of car users about increasing fuel price also contributes to the continued importance of public bus service. Malaysia’s public transportation especially public bus is perceived of unable to meet citizen’s needs satisfactorily. Many claim that if the public transport is improved, they are willing to use it instead of paying for outrageous petrol prices and tolls and ending up stuck in traffic jams (Kambala, 2007). The question is, when bus services improved in Kota Kinabalu, will the local citizens willing to shift from using private vehicle into the public one? From the literature, it was found that public bus will be a critical travelling option among the private car user when the price of the fuel increases. When fuel price increase, the monthly spending will increase and the probability of people shifting from the using their own car to take the public bus will increase. Public bus still become the option for the residents irrespective the income background especially when the price of fuel has increased and their monthly salary cannot cover all the expenses.
Problem of Traffic Congestion
Based on the data provided by the statistic department in a survey of Sabah household in 2009, more than 50% of the residents in Kota Kinabalu go to work by personal automobile while the rest use the public bus or other modes. The increasing number of private vehicles on roads has caused congestion and pollution. The growing community concerns about traffic congestion, sprawl, air pollution, and sustainability, the progressive revitalization of cities and towns, and continued advances in transport technology demand for better bus transit in the new century (Levinson, 2000). In another observation done in Likas, Sepanggar and Sulaman from 15th August 2012 to 15th September 2012, it was found that there traffic congestions during peak hours. The peak hours in Kota Kinabalu during weekdays is range from 7.00 to 8.30 in the morning, and noon12.00 to 2.00pm and 4.30 to 7.00 at the evening. It was also found that, the roads in Sepanggar, Inanam and Likas area are most congested during peak hour. Currently, most of people still insist to use their car. People will only shift to public bus if the public bus system is reliable. Reliable here means available everywhere, arrive on time, cheap as well as safe and comfortable to be used. According to Lo Su Yin, the head of Persatuan Arkitek Malaysia (PAM) Sabah, the medium and long term solution for the problem of traffic congestion is a well planned public transport system
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Transport for tertiary level students
Young people are regular user of public bus transportation especially at tertiary level students. The Chief Executive of Passenger Focus, Anthony Smith, quoted a research that showed almost 50 percent of bus passengers are under 29, making the bus very much a young person’s product and more than 50 percent of students frequently use the bus and depend on it to go to their education or training premise (The Telegraph, 2012). As a center of education in the state of Sabah, the number of student in Kota Kinabalu is high. Most of them neither have car nor driving license to drive car. Thus, they are totally dependence on the public bus service. Furthermore, it was found that many students stayed at Sepanggar, Likas, Sembulan and city center such as students from Universiti Teknologi Mara as well as from Advanced Management and Technology Centre (PTPL), Cosmopoint College, Masterskill College, Mahsa College, Sabah Foundation College, and Polytechnics. Due to large population of students in Kota Kinabalu, public bus is important to fulfill their transport needs. For example, University students from Universiti Teknologi Mara Sabah branch, always use the public bus transport (operated by Tuaran United Transport Company Sdn Bhd) to go to the centre of the city during weekends for outing purpose.
The findings of this paper are in line with the findings of previous research. For example, according to Madzlan and Nookfakhriah (2010), public bus transportation is important to help reduce traffic congestion, save money and time, as well as to reduce pollution. There are no commuters or train services that provide full coverage of transportation in Kota Bharu unlike Kuala Lumpur and Klang Valley (Ibid). Therefore, demand for public bus service is very high in this city. In Kota Bharu and Penang, where the commuter train service is not available, the public bus is the major means for its population.
The Kota Kinabalu City Hall (KKCH) Strategic Plan 2011-2015, focus more on upgrading and improving the infrastructure of the public bus transportation system. For example plans to build uniform bus stop, 45 Lay-by for bus (to be completed in 2012), upgrading the Terminal Wawasan at the centre of town (to be completed in 2012), Terminal at the North, Inanam (to be completed in 2015), Inter Terminal Link at Stadium Likas, Masjid Bandaraya and Masjid Negeri (to be accomplished in 2015), Terminal Kepayan at the South, (to be accomplished in 2015) and Park & Ride facilities. In 2011, some of the project has been implemented under the Public Transportation Financial Group fund, where RM8 million spent to upgrade the Wawasan Bus Terminal and RM5 million to establish a lay-by bus and taxi in the city (Sabah Times, 2011).
The public transportation central plan also include the plan to develop water taxi, monorail system, rail system (Kota Kinabalu Structure Plan 2030). The plan to build the Park and Ride facilities, the upgrading terminals, adding more bus stations, establishment of LRT and Monorail system as well as plan to develop water taxi service indicated the intention of the government to provide better public transportation in the city. The government has done several improvements on bus but these efforts are not commensurate with the importance of public bus to the general public in Kota Kinabalu. In other word, the government has not done enough to improve the bus system service. Transportation system in this city will not work effectively and efficiently if the public bus system is not significantly improved. That is, the public buses need to be continuously maintained, clean, safe and comfortable to be used as well as punctual and always available. For the time being, public bus plays important role as the main public transportation in Kota Kinabalu. However, poor performance and a lack of proper management of bus are existing problems that yet to be solved. It is more preferable if the government finds solutions to the existing problems. The bus system should be improved first before developing new alternative modes of transportation. In the NKRA, there is also no clear and specific statement regarding the budget allocated to improve public bus transportation in the urban areas such as Kota Kinabalu apart from Kuala Lumpur and the Klang Valley. It is because no matter how modern mode of transportation that is planned to be established, public bus still have a place in urban and sub-urban areas. Due to its importance, public bus deserves to get more attention from all levels of government. It deserves to have specific budget allocation not only from the local government but from the federal and state governmenst as well.
Based on the findings, several issues regarding bus transportation need to be addressed. Bus is important at the present and likely to be so in the foreseeable future. However, the findings of this study support previous study findings that certain issues need to be addressed for better bus service performance. For example, performance of public bus under private companies operation. It was found that, public transportation is poor when it was
operated by the private company (Nicosia, 2001). According to Imran (2009), one of the failures of public transport policies is overstating the role of the private sector in public transport. In Kota Kinabalu, public buses are operated by private companies and there are complaints about the lack of comfort, maintenance, punctuality and safety. On the other hand, the bus system in Kuala Lumpur is mainly operated by RapidKL which is owned by the government. In Malacca, the state government takes over the operation of public bus transportation from the private authorities. Public transportation service will continue to be inefficient under the hand of private companies and the problems associated with it will be unresolved if there no aggressive intervention from the government sides. For example, in 1992, the large scale bus privatization without adequate regulation and coordination had created many problems in Delhi such as lengthy, zig-zag routes, long waiting times, completely unreliable service, extreme overcrowding, illegal drivers, and speeding and reckless driving, competitions among buses, poor bus maintenance, lack of safety, noisy, and highly polluting which, add to the already severe congestion, safety, and air pollution problems (Putcher et al., 2004).
Another issue that needs to be addressed is the increasing number of private vehicles on the roads. Public bus can be part of the solutions. However, it will never replace the dominant use of private car if no aggressive effort to improve the public bus system is made. For example, according to O’Toole (2011), buses will probably never replace the automobile as the dominant form of transportation in the United States of America unless with the use of the new-model buses which is significantly less expensive than driving. Only when the bus system in Kota Kinabalu City is restructured, people start continuously to shift from the use of private cars. Thus, the reasons of public bus transportations’ importance should be learned together with these issues so that actual situation for public bus transportation in this city would be able to be identified.
Public bus transportation is important in the past as well as the present time and will continue to be so in the foreseeable future due to the demand from the low income earners, tertiary level students, the public bus system wide destination coverage, concern for the increasing price of car fuel as well as traffic congestion problem. This research is only part of larger research where only the importance of the public bus system is discussed. Based on data collected so far, there is enough evidence to suggest the importance and the continuous importance of public bus transportation system.
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