Wednesday May 6, 2009
Ring the bell
By CHRISTINA CHIN, Photos by WAN MOHIZAN WAN HUSSEIN
PENANG can soon boast having a disabled-friendly bus system as Rapid Penang’s new fleet of 200 buses will be just that – disabled-friendly!
There are currently two prototypes plying the streets for the past month, and more are arriving in stages from Sweden.
“So far, the response we’ve received for the two that are currently running has been positive. We will continue to work closely with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the state to cater to the disabled community’s needs,” said Rapid Penang chief executive officer Azhar Ahmad.
The prototypes are equipped with seat belts, special bells, ramps and a hydraulic system that can lower the bus by 50mm for the wheelchair-bound.
“Our bus captains were all trained by University Sains Malaysia on how to assist these special passengers. There is a special button outside the bus for the wheelchair-bound to press when they want to get on,” he told StarMetro in an interview.
“We will launch a campaign to create awareness among the disabled community on the availability of these buses next month.
He said the new aluminium-structure buses were much lighter and hence, saved up to 20% in fuel usage, compared to the company’s existing buses which were made in China.
The Swedish made buses, however, were twice the price of the buses from China, Azhar.
“In Kuala Lumpur, there are only 30 disabled-friendly RapidKL buses,” Azhar said.
The company currently has 150 buses plying routes in Penang with 110 on the island and 40 on the mainland, and the new buses will be a full complement.
Azhar also said the company wanted to adopt all the 303 bus stops in Penang to make them “more comfortable and disabled-friendly” but would have to wait until the state’s advertising contracts with other companies expired.
“About 80% of the bus shelters have been taken up by advertisers so we have to wait for a few years but we are willing and committed,” he added.
On the free shuttle bus service within George Town’s inner city, Azhar said a recent survey revealed that it was well received by students, office workers and tourists who want to get to the Komtar bus interchange.
The cost of running the service which operates from 6am to midnight daily, is paid for by the Penang Municipal Council.
“Some 1,500 passengers take the free shuttle daily. About 80% to 90% of them are happy but have requested for more frequent trips,” he said, adding that the company was in talks to provide bus shuttle services in the Bayan Lepas free industrial zones.
He also said Rapid Penang was awaiting the state’s decision on its RM20mil depot proposals for Sungai Nibong and Weld Quay.
“We spoke to State Local Government and Traffic Management Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow Chow last week and he was keen on our proposal for Sungai Nibong.
“Hopefully, we’ll receive a favourable reply for the Sungai Nibong depot by mid-May.
“The Sungai Nibong depot will have a four-storey administration building, 145 bus parking bays, workshop and hostel.
“The Weld Quay proposal may take longer to work out because several tenants as well as Penang Port are involved,” Azhar said, adding that the company had requested a 30-year lease at nominal fee as it would be used for “public service”.
As part of the company’s service enhancement and expansion plans, he said sub-depots would be built in Balik Pulau, Nibong Tebal, Kepala Batas, Teluk Bahang and Bayan Baru.
Azhar urged the state government and relevant authorities to develop a public transportation master plan that includes a traffic, landscaping as well as housing and commercial development studies.
“With a master plan in place, strict enforcement on illegal hawkers and double-parked vehicles along the road, and an efficient public transportation system, we can reduce traffic jams in the state by at least 40%,” he said.