Sarawak is taking significant steps to revamp its public transportation system into one that is modern, sustainable and green, in line with the state government’s larger plan to shape a better future for cities in the state.
In its heyday back in the the 80s, commercially-run bus services such as Chin Lian Long Vehicle Company Bhd and Sarawak Transport Company (STC) used to serve Kuching city and its suburbs.
Chin Lian Long’s blue and white buses and STC’s green buses had served commuters for decades before they ceased or shrunk operations due to rising operating costs and lifestyle changes with increased car ownership as the city grew.
Over the past three decades, the bus industry across the globe, not just Sarawak, was dominated by diesel-powered buses due to their increasingly low cost and maturity of the technology.
But with modernisation and technological advances, it has become necessary for the bus transport system to address increased environmental concerns and reduce human impact.
Realising that continuing with business as usual would mean an impact on the environment in the long run, Sarawak government under the leadership of Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg started to explore the alternatives between hybrid, fully-electric and hydrogen-powered buses.
Greening public transport
The Sarawak government thus invested on the transformation with first evaluating the viability and sustainability of electric buses, before opting for hydogen fuel cell buses which was considered to be a truly zero-emission option.
More importantly, the hydrogen fuel cell also gave an added opportunity for the government to venture into the hydrogen economy with the setting up of an integrated hydrogen production plant and refuelling station, which was the first in the Southeast Asia.
Sarawak headed to the hydrogen economy direction as it has competitive advantage in affordable and renewable power and abundant water resources which enable the production of clean hydrogen for public transport as well as for export.
Bus driver Edry Saiful Abdul Hamid strongly supports revamping the public transportation as he was impressed with the advanced technology of the hydrogen bus which was clean, quiet and smooth.
“It is definitely different than diesel bus. It is more comfortable for the driver as well because of automatic transmission. Not only it has low-emission which is good for the environment, it is more fuel efficient than traditional buses.
“I think commuters enjoy the ride because it is comfortable. There are still people taking public bus these days and many have asked about the longer route to Santubong-Damai which operates in the weekend only,” he told DayakDaily.
Coincidentally, Edry’s family was trying out the hydrogen bus and his brother El-qusyairi urged the government to introduce hydrogen bus to Bintulu.
“There are many commuters in Bintulu but there aren’t many buses there. I think it is a safer mode of public transportation than ‘van sapu’ (unlicensed vehicles) because there are CCTVs (closed circuit television) and GPS for real-time monitoring.
“It is good for the environment too, so I am supportive of the government transforming the public transport,” he said.
Their sister Efaliza agreed as she hopes to see more hydrogen buses serving the city in the future.
An update of public transportation services
The plan to revamp the public transport system kicked off with Abang Johari introducing the first electric bus to promote a clean mode of transportation towards preserving the environment which went on trial in March 2019.
The aim was to serve not only the local commuters who still rely on public transport but for the convenience of tourists and visitors as well.
The service was complemented with the Kuching Metro mobile app for commuters to check daily information on bus operation and services, timetable and map of routes.
While the electric bus received good response from commuters and findings indicated that they were reliable and environmentally-friendly, Abang Johari then deployed three hydrogen buses on a trial run (without ferrying passengers) for two weeks from Aug 1, 2019 as part of a pilot project and research into having a efficient and greener public transportation system.
The buses were manufactured by Foshan Feichi Automobile Manufacture Co Ltd, one of the leading hydrogen fuel cell vehicle manufacturers in China.
On Jan 22, the three hydrogen buses officially began operations providing free rides to commuters during its trial period after it was launched by Abang Johari.
It marked a historical milestone for Sarawak’s public transportation, as the first to have hydrogen buses in Southeast Asia.
Each bus can travel over 300km and achieve 15 round trips on the Kuching route in a single fuel.
They are equipped with high-speed WiFi and the H2Sarawak app, which has features such as bus live location, Google Transit integration for commuters to find the nearest public transport station and push notifications of promotions and places of interest.
Abang Johari emphasised that this was the first step in the state’s efforts towards developing a modern public transport system.
“The next step is for us to improve our public transport using hydrogen. At the moment, research is more in favour of hydrogen compared to electric, because with electric you have to dispose of the batteries after three to five years.
“We have been studying the options, and we feel this is the best option as it has zero emissions,” he said.
Abang Johari stressed the importance to have a more holistic approach in the development of public transportation system in terms of design, planning and implementation.
The state government will continue to reduce reliance on fossil fuel so that people will be able to enjoy modern and efficient public transportation with minimal impact on the environment.—DayakDaily