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INTERVIEW

Top: Mariam Ahmed Jumaan; centre: a bus at the
Manama terminal; above: the control centre.

New buzz in Bahrain - towards a viable transport system

MANAMA, September 13, 2015

By Sree Bhat

A constant complaint from residents in Bahrain is that the kingdom doesn't have a good public transport system and they have to either drive their own cars or depend on the expensive taxi service. That situation is changing.

There is a new buzz in Bahrain – the new red buses. The state-of-the-art buses have caught the attention of Bahrain residents and more and more people are using the service, whether for regular transport or just to “check it out”. They are also a talking point in offices, universities, among the youth and on social media.

The ubiquitous buses are a class apart from the previous services and promise to go the extra mile to satisfy the needs of the travelling public. However, for the operator and the government, the bigger challenge is to make people leave their cars and get on the bus.

“Yes, people are talking about it, there is a whole new concept out on the road, people are looking at the bus and saying it is something I must try and use. We want people to check it out,” says Mariam Ahmed Jumaan, Undersecretary, Land Transport and Post at the Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunication, in an exclusive interview with TradeArabia.

Bahrain's public transport system should not be the last transport alternative for the people, it should be the most viable alternative and we are determined to make it happen, says a confident Jumaan.

The new service launched by Bahrain Public Transport Company (BPTC), a joint venture between Ahmed Mansour Al Aali (AMA) and National Express of the UK, under a 10-year concession from the government, hopes to be a game-changer.

The Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications is the regulator for the system and continuously monitors the progress of the project.

The company started its service on February 15, taking over from the previous operator and completed the first phase of the roll out by April 1, after a six-week transition period. On August 1, it completed the full roll out and the system now has 32 routes and 141 buses.

The transport system’s coverage has doubled (it now covers 77 per cent of the demand areas, compared to 35 per cent previously; routes have almost tripled (from 12 to 32) and bus numbers have also increased dramatically, according to Jumaan.

“We strive to effect a step-change in the service the public transport system provides. I don’t want the public transport to be the last alternative for people. It should be a viable alternative for everyone in Bahrain. If one wants to go somewhere, the person should think whether he/she should take a car or the bus. It’s our job to ensure that the bus transport has the coverage, frequency, reliability and the comfort a passenger expects. The ministry and the company are trying to provide this.”

So is she satisfied with the service so far?  Jumaan says: “Things are moving in the right direction. I won’t say that we have yet reached what we have strived to achieve. We want to have buses running full capacity and I want to see more and more people using it. Until people are happy and we start getting positive feedback from them, we will strive to improve. There is always scope for improvement.”

As far as the passenger numbers are concerned, there is a marked improvement. Earlier, the numbers averaged about 16,500 a day and now it’s around 20,000 and during weekends, it is touching 36,000.

“The numbers are moving in the right direction, which is what we were hoping for. These buses can cater to 51,000 passengers per day. I want to be able to reach that figure. When we are there, we can say we have a good percentage of people using public transport. Hopefully by the end of the year, we will hit the target.”

The ministry, as a regulator of the system, will ensure that the private operator adheres to all the conditions of the concession and it meets all the KPIs (key performance indicators) set for them. “We constantly monitor these KPIs and the level of service to make sure that the service is as per the agreed conditions,” she added.

“Car ownership and car usage in Bahrain have increased to levels that are not sustainable and a good public transport system is really the only viable alternative to car ownership. We want to ensure that the public transport system meets the growing needs of the country.  

“People have always asked why there is no good public transport system in Bahrain. Now we want to tell them, there is one, try it.”

Jumaan understands that for the project to succeed there needs to be cultural change and is sure that will come from the country’s younger generation, who are always ready to accept change.

“Like any change it might be a bit slow. When the service is really reliable, when one can check on a smartphone when the next bus will come to his or her stop, more people will start using it. That’s what we are trying to achieve and hopefully before the end of the year, we will be in that situation.”

Some of the key features of the public transport are:
• State-of-the-art air-conditioned passenger-friendly buses;
• 32 routes, 141 buses – all routes and buses completely rolled out;
• Buses to airport (with special luggage areas) from three terminals;
• LED screens on buses - to indicate the next stop. This will be done in three languages;
• Information displays at stations and buses regarding routes, times, ticket prices and network connections;
• Wi-Fi on all buses;
• CCTVs to ensure security;  
• Go card  - a re-useable pre-paid bus pass that can be used on any route across the  network. Go cards are a cheaper, user-friendly alternative to the paper tickets;
• Weekly and monthly bus passes for regular travellers – by the end of the year;
• An app which will provide details of bus timings, routes, etc. on the go – by year-end;
• Safe walking routes and pedestrian crossings, island waiting areas segregated from moving buses, ticket offices with air-conditioned waiting rooms, in-terminal ticket vending machines, 24-hour security;
• Bus stop every 300 metres
• Three bus types –the minis, midis and the big ones.

“We are trying to provide all the means to make the journey safe, relaxed, efficient and cost-effective,” Jumaan says.

The ministry and BPTC are constantly collecting data and feedback from users about the service.  “We have an operation control centre in Isa Town and it provides real-time data. We have one centre in the ministry as well. If there is high occupancy on one route we can increase the frequency. The company and the ministry are constantly monitoring the service and feedback from passengers,” she adds.

Jumaan sees the system providing a park-and-ride service in the near future to busy districts in the country where parking is impossible to find.  “We will need to work with other ministries to provide these solutions,” she says.

All the bus stops in the kingdom are also being re-built to provide better facilities. “We want to make sure that the bus stops are easily accessible and there is a stop every 300 m and people don’t have to walk long distances. Air-conditioned bus stops are also being provided in critical areas on the network.”

Safety and training are key issues for both the ministry and the company, says Jumaan. The drivers, once they pass the Bahrain driving test, must go through a formal 26-hour upskilling training provided by the National Express. There is also constant monitoring of the drivers’ performance.  

“The number one priority for us in the bus and at terminals is passenger safety and there is no compromise on this,” she reiterates.

On the issue of GCC Railway network, she said all the countries are committed to implementing the project. Some countries have already started work. For Bahrain, the connection will be via Saudi Arabia and a feasibility study has been completed. The ministers of the two countries will discuss the report and decisions will be taken to see what are the next steps for the project to be implemented, she added. - TradeArabia News Service
 


 















 




Tags: Bahrain | Bus | Public transport |

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