By Wilfred Pilo and Karen Bong
KUCHING’S first electric bus service made its debut today (March 1), marking one step closer to Sarawak’s vision of using clean energy to power all public transportation system in the state.
DayakDaily took the opportunity to try out the free ride offered by CRRC Electric City Bus Service, as it ferried passengers around the city. Joining the historic occasion was Henry Lai, the managing director of HENZ Pacific Sdn Bhd, which managed the service.
Boarding the e-bus at its main station at the Open Air Market, DayakDaily went all the way, traveling along a loop line dubbed Route 101. The service, which will run from 7am till 6pm daily, completes each loop within an hour, making 20 stops along the way.
Lai expressed content with the positive response on the first day of the service. He believed the public had been aware of this pilot project following its launch by Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg last year.
“The government’s consideration to provide free bus services in Sarawak, not only for big cities but smaller towns as well, is a very positive message from the chief minister,” he said in an interview during the ride.
From the Open Air Market, the e-bus service will cover Satok area up to the suspension bridge, before returning to the city via Jalan Kulas.
The route will pass Kuching heritage trail such as the Sarawak Museum and General Post Office before heading to the Main Bazaar, Jalan Ban Hock and Jalan Central Timur towards Kuching South City Council (MBKS) Recreational Park.
On its way back to the city centre, the e-bus will pass Jalan Ang Cheng Ho, Padungan and Jalan Abell towards the Kuching Waterfront and Darul Hana Bridge.
“This CRRC prototype bus we introduced to the government is very reliable and this bus service is showcasing to them how reliable the technology is, especially used in Kuching, even though we could bring in other big vehicle makers like Mercedes-Benz,” Lai explained.
He said the pilot project, where the public gets free rides, was aimed to build confidence in the technology.
He hoped that studies and research carried out during the three-month trial run would provide the Sarawak government with a good enough to immediately revamp its public transportation system.
“If the state government can provide free public transportation service, it would be good, as the people will spend less on monthly transportation cost.
“That will give them more money to spend on other things. So, I think that is something, which is quite positive,” he said.
The CRRC Electric City Bus has a capacity of 55 passengers including 26 standing commuters, as well as space for wheel chair bound passengers. There are also priority seats for the elderly, pregnant women and mothers with strollers.
The top speed of the e-bus is limited to 70 km/h (standard city speed) and powered by 300 kilowatts of electricity. It can travel up to 300km before it needs to be recharged.
Lai said the public can download the “Kuching Metro” mobile app to utilise the service, where daily information, timetable and map of its routes are available.
The app, available in both Android and iOS, included a real time tracking system to know the exact location of the bus, as well as the timing of its arrival to any particular stop.
He added that each vehicle, measuring 10.5 metres, cost over RM1.2 million including accessories and other features.
The state-of-the-art vehicle is also equipped with free wifi and five CCTVs (two inside and three outside). The bus also has a broadcast system, where the content would be uploaded from the main office.
Sixty-year-old Johnny Chula, who became the first bus driver given the honour to pilot Sarawak’s first electric bus said he was proud to be part of the pilot project and drive the bus on its inaugural journey around the city.
“I have been driving for 30 years with other bus companies and I am impressed by the features of this modern bus. This is a new experience for me and it is not difficult to manoeuvre.
“As the driver, we must ensure that passengers have a smooth ride and pleasant journey, as well as reaching their destinations safely. I hope to drive more of this buses, which operates on clean energy,” he said.
Johnny hoped that public transportation in the city will improve with less traffic congestion.
Salesman Andy Pong, one of the first lucky passengers to board the e-bus, said he found out about the service through the bus company’s Facebook page.
“This bus has all modern features on par with those public buses in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. In fact, I find this one better as it operates on clean energy, which is very good for the transport system in Sarawak,” he said.
“It’s comfortable and emits little noise, which should be good for the environment. The app is definitely a plus, as it helps us plan our journey better. The wifi also enables us to browse the Internet during our ride,” Pong continued.
Meanwhile, retired seafarer and boat captain Wan Ahmad Wan Mahmud, 64, was excited to board the bus, and described it to run as smoothly as a plane taxiing the runway.
“I like all the facilities and features in the bus, which reminds me of when I navigate my boat along rivers and sea using latest navigating equipment. The bus is so comfortable,” said the Sebuyau native.
He hoped that such a bus and service will ferry passengers to his hometown in Sebuyau in the future. He urged the government to consider expanding such service or acquire such buses for routes outside the state capital.
As the bus completed its loop, smiles could be seen on the face of every passenger who participated in the inaugural trip. It may have been an hour’s ride but it would not be surprising if it became a memory that would last a lifetime for the passengers today. — DayakDaily