Brunei's public transport system to undergo reforms

Brunei has embarked on a journey to overhaul its public transport system this year.

With the launch of the Land Transport Master Plan and Land Transport White Paper, the public transport system is expected to see changes that promise a more integrated, rapid and efficient transport network.

Several improvements to the public transport system were proposed, including a new Bus Rapid Transit System and a taxi franchise.

The master plan was a result of a two-year study by the think tank Centre for Strategic and Policy Studies with four core strategies being outlined - reducing car dependency, keeping traffic moving, achieving sustainable society, and strengthening governance.

The master plan aims to pave the way to a future where Bruneians will become less reliant on personal vehicles, in hopes of achieving social and environmental sustainability.

Meanwhile, the Land Transport White Paper was launched on Dec 15, signifying a major step the country is taking to implement strategies set out by the Land Transport Master Plan.

The white paper is a document that covers land transport policies, strategies and initiatives for achieving the set vision as well as prescribing steps toward improving land transport in Brunei holistically while using technology as an enabler.

Brunei currently has three forms of public transport - public buses, taxis, and water taxis - which are all lacking in coverage, efficiency and quality that limit its attractiveness to local and foreign users.

Public buses

The multi-coloured bus system, formerly known as the "purple bus", consists of six routes around the Brunei-Muara district and is run by five private operators using a fleet of 105 buses, while three more bus routes operate in Belait district.

There are also currently three inter-district bus services linking the Bandar Seri Begawan bus terminal with Seria, Lamunin and Tutong town, with no bus services operating in Brunei's substantial hinterland and in Temburong district.

Currently, the most popular bus service in the country is the free shuttle bus that takes passengers from Masjid Jame' 'Asr Hassanil Bolkiah pick up and drop off point to Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha Hospital.

According to a previous report this year, the number of passengers had risen from 12,000 to 60,000 over the years, including 3,500 daily average number of outpatients and visitors recorded by the hospital.

In the master plan and white paper, the bus system will face the most changes and improvements with a new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system planned, as buses constitute as the main means of public transport in Brunei.

The new BRT system will incorporate four lines across the Brunei-Muara district with a total of 48km of bus lanes, and a frequency of four minutes between each bus.

The new system also targets a total of 126 BRT buses that would run 29,000 trips during the morning peak hours and a total of 228,000 trips per day.

The current bus system would also be enhanced to create a BRT bus feeder system that supports the BRT system, taking passengers to stops not in the BRT lines.

The current bus fleet of 105 buses, in 2013, will also be increased to a total of 275 buses with average bus headway of 10 minutes and a total of 8,000 bus trips during morning peak hours, which is an increase from less than 1000 in 2013.Taxi franchise

Taxis only play a minor role in public transportation with only 48 privately owned taxis operating in the sultanate.

Taxis in Brunei provide a non-metered service that satisfies the relatively low demand for premium door-to-door transport services, but fall short in terms of overall service information, customer protection and integration with the wider public transport network.

An October news report stated that there were nearly 100 illegal taxis roaming on Brunei roads.

In the same report, a taxi driver had complained that illegal taxis do not operate under the same rules as other taxis, leading to illegal taxis taking away their customers and reducing the amount of income they receive.

The white paper also mentioned that the current number of only 48 licenced taxis, which is significantly below international comparators, will be increased up to a fleet of 400 vehicles allocated based on population by district and phased over a number of years.

It added that a further fleet expansion may be viable depending on the population growth by 2035.

Not only will the numbers be improved but the quality of vehicles and equipment will also be raised with the installation of taxi lights, taxi meters, CCTVs, radios, air conditioning and emissions standards, combined with strong enforcement of vehicle age limits.

The white paper further stated that with the improvement of taxis, there would also need to be a regulatory and enforcement action against unlicensed, uninsured and illegal taxis.

Water taxis

The last form of public transportation in Brunei is the water taxi, which mainly takes citizens and tourists around Kampong Ayer or to and from Temburong.

With around 290km of navigable waterways in the Sultanate and a total of 273 boats operating, the water transport offers a range of low volume demand-responsive services across Brunei.

Water taxi services are well-established and have a record of limited accidents, however there have been complaints of inconsistency and low in number of water taxis.

Earlier in August, it was reported that commuters were frustrated with the lack of boats, with one commuter explaining that the lack of boats had led to him experience a two-hour waiting time for boats and people arriving late for work.

This problem however, did not escalate as commuters could take an alternative route through the Pandaruan Bridge or 'Friendship Bridge' to reach Temburong district.

As part of the reforms, there will be more water taxis and water buses operating from various locations including piers and jetties at Muara, Central BSB and Bangor, as well as new locations such as Brunei Airport.

The boat designs will also be improved, along with operations and maintenance in accordance to modern standards.

The master plan will centralise the improvements to water transport around actual and perceived safety, accessibility, customer-focus, sustainability and integration with other public transport modes.

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