BY CRYSTAL WONG & TANIA LAM
KUCHING: The government needs to play an active role in the improvement of a city’s public transportation system, and planning must be based on a cost effective, sustainable and pragmatic approach.
Henz Pacific Sdn Bhd managing director Henry Lai said this when speaking of the deteriorating public transportation system here.
He said based on the Greater Kuching area’s population of about one million, it would require 1,000 buses and yet there were less than 100 in operation tomorrow.
“The ratio is around 10,000 inhabitants per bus – a very sad figure compared to the 80s,” he said when speaking at the launching ceremony of the Kuching Metro Electric City Bus here today.
“The population in Kuching during the 80s was around 200,000, but we had 300 to 400 buses during that time — the ratio is around 500 to 600 inhabitants per bus.”
He said the estimation of 1,000 buses required to cover Kuching’s population was based on Singapore and London as a guide as they had very efficient public transportation. He said their public transport ridership was around 70 percent.
“For Kuching, if we want to achieve 70 percent ridership, which is 700,000 commuters daily, the Singapore and London figures tell us how many buses are needed in order to achieve a reliable and efficient public transportation system with higher ridership.”
At the same time, Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah did point out that no two cities would have the exact same circumstances and various factors had to be taken into account with regard to the topic of public transportation needs.
He noted that not many people in London or Singapore owned cars and the population there was encouraged to use public transport, whereas most Kuchingites owned cars and preferred driving.
Lai also said the use of clean energy buses was on an upward trend, especially looking at China where more than 90 percent of the world’s electric buses operate.
“In fact, electric buses can co-exist with other energy source buses – different clean energy sources will have their own advantages.”
He said under normal circumstances, the batteries for electric buses could last at least eight years or more. He added that the technology for batteries was continuously improving with capacities getting bigger and sizes getting smaller.
“The standard practice for an electric bus battery is, once the battery’s capacity drops by 20 to 30 per cent, they have to be replaced and these used batteries can still be used to power homes or even for the Sarawak Alternative Rural Electrification Scheme (Sares) project in Sarawak.
“For example, a used 300kWh battery after reducing 30 per cent of its capacity still stores 210kWh of power, which is sufficient to power around 30 to 35 doors under the Sares project,” he said, adding that these batteries could be used for another five to 10 years before being sent for recycling.
Lai noted the recycling of batteries was still low at less than five per cent globally, but said it was a lucrative business to venture into.
He also expressed his gratitude to Sarawak Energy for their sponsorship and support.
“We both have had a very good collaboration and relationship since the start of the pilot project in Kuching and now we continue to strengthen our collaboration with the four units of new electric buses.
“Together, we hope to explore our common objective, especially in the electric-powered buses for the betterment of and contribution to our public transportation system.”