Sugar rush with bitter aftertaste

  • Community
  • Wednesday, 02 May 2012

TWO blurry figures caught my attention through the rain-blotched windshield as I waited in traffic on the way to an assignment on one rainy afternoon.

One was a woman while the other was clearly that of a child.

As I edged in closer, I spotted an extra pair of eyes peering from the woman’s embrace.

She was also cradling a toddler with the use of a sarong sling.

Waiting by a bus sign-post by the side of the road, the poor mother only had a small wiry umbrella that proved too feeble to keep the family dry.

She was trying to use her body to block out the wind as well as the rain, keeping her children huddled closer.

As the traffic began to move, I thought to myself when would it end. Today it’s a mother; yesterday an elderly and the days before that, countless others — all “victims” of poor public transportation.

It is no secret as to how bad our public transportation is.

Shortage of buses, longer waiting time, lack of proper bus stops and let’s not forget that we still have old buses — dubbed “dinosaurs-on-wheels” — operating on some routes.

I admit that I do get nostalgic each time I drive past these old buses for I used to depend on them to get around town once-upon-a-time ago.

The loud roar of the engine, the metal flooring, thinly-cushioned bench seats and best of all, the rattling ride — all of which would leave your body as wobbly as jelly even after you long had gotten off the bus.

But as hard as it is to let go of old times, change we must. Some things are just best to hold on to as memories.

And so when plans to revamp the city’s public transportation were announced, I was over the moon about it.

At that time, public transportation came under the governance of Housing and Urban Development Ministry, helmed by its then-minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg.

Those who have dealt with the minister would know him as a strategist who is always on a look-out for new and workable approach to a problem.

So it was a relief knowing we had the “man” for the job.

Johari set the wheels turning by unveiling exciting plans for the state’s public transportation.

Incorporating modern technology, the plans included new buses and lanes, an integrated bus terminal as well as a cashless system with the introduction of prepaid cards where passengers could just “tap and go”.

A lab to look into the public transportation woes also took place in March last year guided by the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) under the Prime Minister’s Department, involving all stakeholders ranging from private bus companies to traffic authorities.

The minister also took pains to explore the possibility of working with Poland for the country was known to supplying buses that used green technology.

Johari was realistic that all this would take time and thus, set a time frame for his mission.

The period was five years, which was fair enough given there was much to do.

He then put in a request for RM200mil from Federal Government to jump-start things.

However, a cabinet reshuffle took place in September last year, which saw some of the ministries renamed including the Housing and Urban Development Ministry.

Suddenly it became known only as the Housing Ministry and Johari was no longer in charge of public transportation.

Suffice to say, the media was also at lost as to whom should they contact with regard to public transportation.

It is later learnt that the Infrastructure Development and Communications Ministry is now overseeing this sector.

That’s all fine and dandy — but now, a pertinent question looms: What has happened to all that planning and research work?

Will the changeover see new plans or will it see a continuation of the old?

So far since the cabinet reshuffle, it has all been very quiet when it comes to the status of the public transportation revamp.

And frankly, this is disappointing.

Could it all be just a momentary “sugar rush” where in one minute everybody gets all hyped up about something but in the next instant, everything falls flat with only the sound of “Jiminy Cricket” in the background?

This is the fear of many whe-never there’s a change in command.

A new boss may want to implement things according to his or her own style; thus those in the lower chain would need to reboot.

If this happens – like it or not – the waiting time is prolonged.

I cannot even begin to stress how continuity is crucial on matters that affect the masses — and it’s not just public transportation I’m talking about here.

Many of my colleagues share similar “sugar rush” tales – just as the momentum builds, in comes the new management and the whole idea fizzles out.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Razak once stressed that continuity was a prerequisite for long-term plans to materialise.

He may be saying this in a political context then but hey, it works in other aspects too!

If the foundation of a good plan has been laid out, why not complement it by adding on what’s necessary and roll it out.

That way, all the hard work put in to formulate the transformation will not be wasted and the job gets done as anticipated.

Don’t get me wrong. I agree that we must be open to new suggestions, ideas and approaches.

That said, I also subscribe to the saying: “Why fix it, if it’s not broken”.

If the plan is already a good one and is sure to benefit the people, why the need to change or discard it?

Let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture here. In the end, the objective must be met.

As such, I’m hoping for continuity on what the honourable minister had set out to do.

Besides, it sounded like a workable plan with modern ideas that’s sure to raise the standard of our society.

Of the five years that have been projected since Johari’s announcement, two have passed.

At best come 2015, our goal should be that no mother, child, elderly or anybody for that matter, must brave the sun and rain, waiting for hours just to get home.

I believe we have waited long enough.

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