By Poyi (Natalie) Leung
It is 34 degrees outdoors and more than 15 people including a handful of elderly are standing on the narrow footpath, with their heads all turned to the right, eyes staring at the corner of the street two blocks away in the direction of where the buses come from, possibly wondering why buses take so long to arrive.
The bus, a small one, finally arrives but is already carrying an almost full compartment of passengers, both sitting and standing. People at the bus stop quickly step off the kerb before the bus arrives, hoping to be the first to get on board.
It was packed, and then it gets even more packed. For those who have to stand, their backs are basically sticking to someone else’s back, making the ride even more uncomfortable in a closed environment where air-conditioning seems to be not functioning properly.
Once “lucky” enough to be able to get on board, some passengers immediately complain to the person next to them, saying that they have waited for half an hour for the bus to come, and the stranger replies: “I have also waited for 20 minutes!”
Then a third passenger is heard: “Let’s tolerate this for a few more days. Everything will be good starting August 1 because there will be more buses”.
Some, if not a lot, of Macau people do have high hopes for the new bus service model that will be operated by three companies – Transmac, TCM and new comer Reolian – just three days away.
However, director of the Transport Bureau (DSAT) Wong Wan has already stressed that Macau’s sometimes ‘unfavourably known’ bus services will take time to improve from the root. In other words, next Monday is just the very beginning of a long battle.
Nevertheless, locals and bus drivers seem to hold different views of existing problems that have plagued the city’s public transportation system for years probably since the local economy started to boom, and also share different expectations for the upcoming “reform”.
Mrs Ho, a local resident from Fai Chi Kei, admits that she is not satisfied with the current public bus services.
“The drivers used to be very nice before, but now they always brake the bus suddenly, treating us as if we were pigs,” the 65-year-old tells the Macau Daily Times while waiting for the bus to San Ma Lou.
“The students also pretend to be blind and do not give their seats to elderly passengers,” she said.
Mrs Ho says she has no idea why buses in Macau, unlike Hong Kong, are always so crowded. “Macau is so small and the bus trips are usually short, so why do we have such kind of services here?”
She says she has a number of times chosen not to board a bus because it was overcrowded, fearing overloading and her own safety.
“Once I was on bus No. 33 going to Taipa and I was so scared all the way when it was crossing the bridge as it was so packed that I feared it would suddenly reverse,” she recalls.
In spite of August 1 being just around the corner, the retiree is not very optimistic that the new service will solve problems dramatically.
“There aren’t enough drivers so it’s useless to have more buses, I don’t expect there will be any big improvements,” she says.
Wyman Leong is a salesman who needs to travel by bus frequently every day to meet customers. He says the service frequencies are never consistent with the time intervals stated on the route maps at the bus stops.
Yet, he adds: “Of course poor benefits made the companies lose a lot of drivers and are also unable to attract people to enter the industry.”
Mr Leong doesn’t agree that public buses need to be very well equipped or have a modern appearance.
“It’s okay as long as they can transport people from one place to another, we aren’t going on a holiday so I don’t have high demands of them,” he says.
He has also given up boarding a bus due to it being overcrowded, and he doesn’t have high hopes that the situation will improve that much in three days.
“It’s just a matter of having one more bus company,” he adds.
The city’s bus drivers have reportedly had complaints laid against them on more than one occasion regarding their poor service quality.
The salesman says he has experienced drivers with “impolite attitude”, but points out that passengers also need to review their own words and behaviour. “They [passengers] will hit the door panels when the driver can’t take any more people and won’t let them get on board.”
Another local resident, Mr Chu, also commutes by bus every day. The 21-year-old tells the MDTimes he is unhappy mostly with long waiting periods, adding it’s not uncommon to spend over 15 minutes waiting for a bus to arrive.
He also says there are drivers “with poor attitude and some even scold the passengers”.
Nevertheless, Mr Chu hopes that by increasing frequencies of service beginning August, buses may be “less crowded” and waiting times might also be shortened.
While some people are pointing fingers at drivers, Mr Pun, who has been driving Transmac buses for 18 years, argues that it’s the passengers “sole responsibility” and drivers do not “initiate a fight” with passengers.
“There is no order at all and people just compete to get onto the bus. They don’t cooperate with us [drivers] and don’t try to move down inside the bus to give space for other passengers,” the 54-year-old tells the MDTimes.
“When they don’t pay full fare on the bus, we ask them to pay back the difference but then they will get very angry and say the money isn’t for us anyway,” he adds.
Mr Pun admits that he is not happy at work because of the frequent conflicts with passengers. Yet, he has no intention to change jobs as he deems that “all companies are the same”.
“People go down to the road before the bus arrives and so we can’t park inside the bus stop area. On one hand we’re afraid of police giving us tickets but on the other hand if we sound the horn [to tell the people to step back] they will say we’ve frightened them. We feel very helpless,” he said.
“As long as passengers can pay full fare, move down inside the compartment, enter through the front door and get off through the back door then everything will be fine,” he says.
The heavy traffic, frequent road construction and congestion, according to Mr Pun, are also factors that affect a bus drivers “mood at work”.
The driver is also aware of overloading and worried that the braking system won’t function properly in case of emergency, but he says he can’t prohibit people from getting onto the bus.
“The ideal is we can stop taking more passengers once the bus is full, but in reality we’re not allowed to do so,” he points out.
Meanwhile, Mr Pun says even though their salaries will be raised from MOP 188.50 to MOP 199.50 per day beginning in August, the remunerations are still “not attractive” and the drivers aren’t given the allowances each month but only “when the company feels like it”.
Since the government is subsidising the city’s public bus services, he deems that it should oblige operators to offer reasonable remuneration to drivers so that “good services will result naturally”.
His colleague, Mr Lam, has also worked for Transmac for 15 years. “We see so many different people every day and the passengers have verbal conflicts with us just about very little things,” he says, “the company and the passengers will blame the drivers for whatever problems that have occurred.”
Every morning at the Border Gate bus terminal, Mr Lam tells the MDTimes that the passengers, including a large number of construction workers, will almost fight each other to get onto the bus No. 25 or AP1 to the Cotai area.
He does have high expectations for the new bus service, hoping that with the help of one more operator, Reolian, people can have a more pleasant experience with the city’s main public transportation.
Opt for own cars
Ms Sio is a clerk and she drives her own scooter to work and then home every day. “It’s more convenient and I can better control the time. Buses take a long time to come and it’s not always possible to get on board.”
She agrees that buses are “very packed especially in the evening when most people finish work”, adding that she is concerned about passenger safety.
Although she believes that the situation will improve next week, she says her scooter will continue to be the main vehicle for her daily commute.
Another resident from Taipa, Ms Mio, also says she is unsatisfied with the current bus service which she feels are “getting less frequent” these days, adding sometimes she has to wait for half an hour for the bus to come.
On the contrary, Mrs Ung, a housewife from Fai Chi Kei, tells the MDTimes that she feels there are more buses running and driver’s attitudes have also improved “compared to the past”.
She says she is “quite satisfied” with the bus services, and expects that it will get even better in August.
However, the resident points out that some of the buses are relatively old and need better facilities. “Once I was on a TCM bus and I tried to grab the seat handle when the car braked, but then I found that the handle was actually broken.”
Drivers call for protection
“We can only tolerate being scolded at by rude passengers using insulting words, we’re not happy but the company has told us not to argue with them,” Mr Choi, a TCM driver for about six years, tells the MDTimes.
“People who are on the bus don’t want others to get on board, while those who can’t squeeze in will just stay at the entrance making us unable to close the door,” he says.
He hopes that passengers can try to understand the drivers’ difficulties, and that they won’t be fined MOP 600 for having parked the vehicle outside of the bus stop area.
According to Mr Choi, one of his colleagues got beaten by a man at the Border Gate bus terminal last week at night, because the passenger got onto a bus that already finished its service for the day and was asked to leave the compartment.
“We hope that there will be more protection for drivers’ personal safety. We have no idea if the person is drunk or when someone is going to attack us with a weapon,” he says.
In addition, with a basic salary of MOP 7,300 a month, he says the company has already announced that the drivers will receive a pay rise beginning August, but refuses to disclose how much.
Another TCM driver, Mr Lai, shares the same view as his counterparts. “If passengers can be less barbarous and understand that we’re also just trying to make a living to support our families, many problems can then be solved.”
He also believes that it is crucial to improve traffic conditions in Macau or otherwise placing more buses on the roads won’t ease the growing demand for services.
Nevertheless, Mr Lai admits that he has thought of hopping to the “new bus company” which he heard offers “better benefits”.