The non-driving class in Kinta Valley

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The Ipoh Bus Project: A smple collective effort that made a big difference - Photograph: digitalmalaysia.my

We should do our bit and contribute to the only planet we have, says Shazni Bhai. How? Come over to the bus stop now.

Are you one of us?

Yes indeed, we do exist. We are on the streets and pavements on foot. We walk here and there and hop on and off arrogant buses. Hungry taxi drivers seduce us while apathetic motorists splash us with muddy water.

A fresh carcass of a dog lies motionless, squashed by motorists passing by on a busy road in the morning of a regular weekday. She is one of us. Flies buzz over it under the scorching sun.

An old man gazes at the poor dear dead dog and his wristwatch alternately. He takes out his Good Morning towel and wipes away his wet salty sweaty forehead. If he was watching a football match, it would have been half time by now.

Yet, it seems that there is no bus passing by at all. The old man glances again at his wristwatch and looks up to the end of the road, through the glare. At long last, he extends his hand to wave down the long-awaited approaching bus, which is coming at full speed.

But the old man is unable to flag down the fast moving bus. He spits out a litany of infamous vulgar Cantonese words at the blue city bus whizzing by. Obviously, his tongue is much faster than his legs.

The old man gazes at his wristwatch again. It seems that the value of his time is much cheaper than the value of his wristwatch. The old man is one of us. He is neither sexy nor daring enough to make the speeding bus stop.

We are those who don’t drive; nor do we own any motor vehicle, either due to socioeconomic circumstances or by choice. Not all of us are women.

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We are those who enjoy the blazing afternoon heat and the corrosive wet rain. We are not necessarily old nor are we immigrants. We bear the effects of global warming more than drivers do.

We are the non-driving class. If you would like to give it a try, to feel for yourself what it is like being one of us, come over to any bus stop. The bus might come 10 minutes later than yesterday. If you wait earlier tomorrow, chances are you would have to wait for 20 minutes. And if you still want to wait the day after tomorrow, you have passed the test. Welcome to the club!

Petrol price vs bus fare

Now the price of petrol (RON95 and Diesel) has dropped to RM 1.70 per litre. (It has since risen to RM1.95.) This is indeed good news isn’t it?

Well, it really depends on which class you are with. Since you have joined our ranks, the bus fare is quite inelastic even with the reduction of petrol price.

Now we would like to put you at a bus stop at Klebang Restu in Chemor, a housing estate about 30 minutes’ drive from the classic Ipoh KTM Railway Station. It is a semi urban area, near a developing industrial area.

Take the pink Ipoh–Kuala Kangsar bus from there to the Medan Kidd Bus Station. You will have to pay a RM2 fare for a 12.6km ride. This has been the fare for the last two years.

But If you take the same bus from the same stop to go to the factory, which is five minutes’ drive or 2.5km away, the conductor would ask for RM1. Fantastic, indisputable calculation.

Some stops do not even have any shelter at all. There is not a single proper bus stop along the main road of Chemor town. If you wish to take a bus from here, you might need to wait on the five-foot-way of a row of shops. Hence, it is quite possible that the bus driver may not notice you at all especially if it is dark or raining – unless you perform some stunt, which we will not discuss here.

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Less carbon, please

According to statistics in the official portal of Ministry of Transport, Perak alone has 722,865 cars as at 30 September 2014. Compare that to the 639,113 cars as at 31 December 2013. That’s a rapid increase of 83,752 cars in less than a year. Over 9,300 more cars in a month!

Imagine the carbon emitted from these cars and inhaled by pedestrians. Will there be an equilibrium between the number of cars on the road and the emissions of carbon? Are our days numbered? Are we the pedestrians outnumbered by the cars?

Do we need some authoritative regulations to restrict ownership of cars, just like some other countries where bicyclists roam freely on the roads? Do we need to abolish private motor vehicles once and for all?

An ideal city should be a place for diverse elements to coexist without squashing us all on the road. Will we end up like the dear dead dog on the road?

Co-exist, not kill.

To ride or not to ride – what ought to be done?

Is the word public fit to be used when transport is discussed in the city’s development plans? Though it seems that the former cannot not be separated from the latter when it comes to our beloved bus service, it is actually owned and run by a consortium of businesses. How public can that be? They make profits out of public service; yet, we do not even have enough bus stops.

Should we hand the responsibility for the bus service to the local council (which we are not allowed to elect), the state government or the federal administration – or the to capitalists?

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How about if we follow the example of a group of youths who run the Ipoh Bus Project? In 2013, a young local, who has a fix-it-ourselves mentality, with a few more friends gave a new look and identity to a local bus stop in their neighbourhood. It was given a new coat of paint. A smple collective effort that made a big difference.

If we could do things to reclaim our rights as citizens from the state, why not just imagine the road system itself as a state. From there, we could reclaim our autonomy. Public transport should be democratic and efficient. Those buses should be competing to keep a lid on the rising global temperature, not racing with one another or ending up in scrap yards or museums.

The bus business is indeed funny. Naturally any business would want more customers; yet this one never bothers to look after their customers.

What then should we do now? Come down to the bus stop. We need more of us to help the old man stop the bus without having to curse.

Shazni-BhaiShazni Bhai is one of the coordinators of the Free Tuition Project at the Sungai Siput (U) Parliamentary Service Centre and collective member of Gerila Budaya. An avid public transport user, he believes all ministers should ride the bus to work.

Shazni participated in Aliran’s Young Writers Workshop on Good Governance, Gender and Vulnerable Groups held in Ipoh with the support of the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives.

He was delighted to find that Ipoh is not short of fantastic young writers. “I would love to suggest that the Young Writers Workshop be held annually, especially in Ipoh,” he says.

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