By Christopher Tobutt
It was meant to be part of the big, long term George Town Revitalization Plan aimed at freeing up the congested town centre while helping people, particularly the elderly, to move about from one place to another when they had lots of errands to run. But now, with less than two months in office, the new PACT government has shelved the free hop-on-hop-off shuttle bus service that was attracting about 1000 passengers a week. Former Infrastructure minister, Joey Hew, took the very last bus on Friday 28 May from outside the Parliament building.
“I am going to take a last ride on the hop on hop off service around George Town that was implemented by my ministry previously. I understand that it was announced that today would be the last day for that service, the new government have decided to not renew the contract,” he said. “I just wanted to come out and take a last right on it. It has been very useful and helpful, and it just began to pick up its momentum with a thousand people per week using it.
“Even though I was Minister of Works I continuously said that we can’t build roads and build our way out of our traffic problem; it has to be a holistic approach. We formed a committee on how to reduce traffic, with public transport being a part of that. A lot of seniors told me that they enjoy taking public transport into George Town, but as they got into George Town, it was very difficult for them to move around.” It was, he explained, therefore also an incentive for people to take the regular bus service from the other districts into George Town, and leave their cars at home, because they would be confident of getting around easily when they are in town.
“If they get into town and then they have to go to Elgin Avenue to the Government building or to the bank or to Credit union, or have to come back into town to the court house or the Needs Assessment Unit, or wherever they had to go it was quite a journey in that heat,” he said. The idea in the long term was that persons could actually drive to a parking lot, park their vehicles there on the outskirts of town and use the shuttle service around town, and a help to remove some of the congestion we saw with traffic in George Town.
On board the bus, Mr. Hew asked the driver about how people were feeling now that the service was ending, and the driver said that people were very disappointed. The service was improved with feedback from the users. “We evolved the route over a period of a couple of months to suit the main traffic routes, and I would like to encourage the government to ensure that there’s another step to this. If they are going to terminate this service and then not invest and use the information gathered during the last few months to put in place a permanent hop on hop off service around the town, it would be a shame, I think it would be a step backwards,” Mr. Hew said. Mr. Hew also added that he felt it would be a source of revenue for tour bus operators who were effectively out of business since the covid shutdown.