Getting up early in the morning to go to work or school and stopping a bus to get there is something the majority of Port Vila residents do on a daily basis.
The buses are usually full in the mornings and different passengers request to be taken to different destinations. Some drivers tell people where they are going and give the potential passengers the choice to board or not depending on whether they are in a hurry.
However, some drivers do not do this and this often causes a lot of employees and students to turn up late for work and school, leaving them really frustrated. In worse cases, it may also cause people travelling by air to even miss their flight if they arrive late at the airport.
Is this practice the only option or should a similar public transport system where buses run on a standard route, according to a timetable while being controlled by a central authority, such as in Fiji and Australia, be adopted?
Principal of Central School, George Willietien, says Port Vila needs to adopt a public transport system, like in Australia. He says the most common reason for lateness by teachers and students is the public buses which take them everywhere around the city and drop them off at school 30 minutes to an hour late.
Principal Willietien said some of his students live as far as Eton and even some villages on the north side of Efate. He says as a result, some students are either scared or embarrassed to come late to class, even though it is not their fault.
He says six years ago the school decided not to punish students that come late but have those in years 7-13 visit the guidance counselor and join their respective class in period 2, while Kindergarten to Year 6 kids go straight to their classes.
As an extra suggestion, the principal says Port Vila should be divided into different regions with several established routes in those regions. He said the buses should be color coded so it would be easier for children to figure out which bus will take them from home to school and vice versa.
Willietien says if the buses could also have the go card system like in Australia, where one tops up at the shops and just swipe the cards when they get on and get off. It would make it a lot easier as a bus wouldn’t be delayed when someone would have to remove coins to pay the drivers. It would also save the driver from being a target of potential thieves as he would have a lot of cash on board.
Jonah Nombong, owner of Smart on Electrics, believes buses should run on specific routes and run according to a timetable. While studying at the Australian Pacific Technical College in Suva, Fiji, he says he experienced how effective their public transport system was, especially how the buses ran on time and he was never late getting anywhere.
The frequent user of public transport says buses and bus stops need to be universally accessible. He says service buses must be wheelchair friendly and that those living with a disability should in some cases be exempted from paying bus fare.
The father of three adds drivers should also make arrangements with schools and just run specific routes to pick students. He says revenue will be made and less fuel would be wasted driving around and looking for VT150.
Chief Warden of the Port Vila City Council (PVCC) Police, Herve Hopkins, believes the bus service would run well if controlled by the PVCC, similar to other cities where their bus services are controlled by the city council.
Apart from getting people from A to B on time, Hopkins is also concerned about safety as in the past there have been reports of harassment by bus drivers.
Hopkins believes if the bus service was run by the PVCC, all drivers would be accountable to the PVCC and the council will be in a position to discipline errant drivers.CEO of the Public Land Transport Authority (PLTA) Reginald Tabi, is in favor of buses being run on standard routes, following a timetable. However, he says it will only be possible if the government gives them more resources and funding.
Mr. Tabi says privatization of the service bus fleet is the only effective way forward as it is really difficult to deal with individual owners and drivers. Tabi also cites examples of the Tourism Ambassador program which he believes has not changed a lot of drivers who attended the course.
Tabi says attitude is a main problem as there are already rules in place for dressing up well, no smoking or drinking alcohol while providing servicing the public but even these simple rules are not adhered to by some of the drivers.
He says if the fleet was privatized to a few private companies made up of bus owners as shareholders and given specific areas to service, discipline would be easy as the effect of punishment will be harsher if the whole company gets its fleet grounded due to breach of rules by one driver, rather than punishing individual owners. He believes it would teach them to all behave and adhere to the rules.
Mr. Tabi says the taxis also need a central authority and have a central office, where customers could call a toll-free number if they need a taxi. The office attendant could just call any taxis within the area of the callers to pick them up.
Bus driver Junihno Bani believes if they were all controlled under a central authority, things could be fairer for all of them as they would all be given set routes and they would all be able to earn a fair income.
The Hyundai bus driver says passengers often prefer the Toyota buses over the Hyundai buses for better comfort. However, he feels if they are all given set routes passenger distribution will be fair.