AS a panellist at the 2015 Land Public Transport Symposium for the session titled “The first and last mile connectivity: How do we make it better”, I called for the return of mini bus services to be part of the last mile connectivity solution.
I said we should bring back the mini bus to transport people for high frequency and reliable services. I was quoted in news reports saying: “We all remember how good it was even though there was some concern over the safety, level of service and its business model. It is high time we bring it back, this time as feeder services at urban areas especially from the LRT, KTM and MRT stations.”
During the Malaysia Commercial Vehicle Expo 2019 held in June at the Malaysia International Exhibition and Convention Centre, Hino Motors introduced the Poncho, a seven-metre ultra low-floor minibus with a kneeling function. The height of the bus can be lowered by 50mm to facilitate boarding and alighting. It can also be raised 30mm higher for greater ground clearance on rough roads, and was designed to transport up to 31 adults, including standing passengers.
This mini bus is powered by a Euro V-compliant 5.0 litre turbodiesel engine mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. In Japan, there are more than 2,000 units of Hino Poncho operating in busy city streets and narrow residential roads.
When I made the call four years ago, many people made immediate connection to the pink mini buses we had on our roads until 1998 (pic). Back then, these buses were kings of the road. Drivers operated them at breakneck speed and they were fondly known as “pink panthers” that provided cheap and efficient transport.
However, mini buses these days, such as the Hino Poncho, are different vehicles altogether. The specifications of the Hino Poncho chassis can put many so-called luxury buses and cars to shame.
Although commercial vehicles are exempted from excise duty, it is still too costly for many stage bus companies to operate state-of-the-art mini buses.
While welcoming the Transport Ministry’s announcement that mini bus services will begin next year, Pan-Malaysian Bus Operators Association president Datuk Mohd Ashfar Ali called on the Land Public Transport Agency to provide more details about the service.
He was reported to have said: “We are willing, able and ready to work closely with the Transport Ministry to make this scheme a success for the benefit and convenience of the public, and also to fulfil the government’s policy of encouraging more people to use public transport.”
The process should be speeded up as many full-size buses, noticeably MRT feeder buses, are running about almost empty. More importantly, mini buses can operate on routes which are not serviced by full-size buses or where their frequencies are too few and far in between.