Those who have taken ‘Bas Mini’ would surely remember the memories and journey of it. NSTP Pix.

“MASUK dalam, masuk dalam, buat dua barisan” (move further in and stand in two lines) — this was once the gratingly popular call by bus conductors of the “bas mini” to passengers, in an already sardine-packed can-on-wheels. It was a familiar scene from the 1970s right up to 1990s of the country’s public transport industry.

While riding the bus, the conductor will call out, at the top of his voice (no microphone was needed) — “Lebuh Ampang... Bangkok Bank... Chow Kit...”, and other stops along the bus route, as they sought to capture as many passengers as they could to squeeze into the mini bus, which has a capacity of some 30 people.

The multi-coloured mini bus was THE public transport then for passengers going to their respective workplaces in Kuala Lumpur or nearby the city. It served some 60 routes in Kuala Lumpur/Petaling Jaya and the outskirts. For me, it was the public transport of choice to reach my destination, for work or leisure. Despite the tight squeeze and the sweat-stained clothes, coupled with the less than desirable body odour, it was the cheapest public transport available then.

Introduced in 1975, the mini bus was meant to complement the existing public transportation in the city then, which were mostly stage buses. The mini bus did not have any fixed timetable and its cheap fare, as well as its ability to get to its destinations faster than the other modes of public transport, saw it survive until 1998. When the mini bus was introduced as a service, the fare was just 40 sen. Later in 1991, the fare increased to 50 sen and two years later, the fare was adjusted to 60 sen.

Yes, in those days, you could reach your destination with less than RM1, and you saved journey time, but whether you were in one piece and whether your confidence and sanity were still intact at the end of the journey — that’s another matter. This, as the recklessness with which the driver cuts through traffic, saw many passengers including me, hanging on for dear life.

Despite such drawbacks, the service proved to be a saviour to many KLites and many others dependent on public transport.

The mini bus had many colour schemes — blue-white; yellow-white and red-white, among others, and this led to no small amount of confusion. Many a times I would end up in the wrong place, confused by the bus colour schemes.

In 1990, the then Transport Ministry sought to rejuvenate the mini bus service, and as part of the move, chose a common colour scheme — pink. It earned the mini bus a new moniker — the “Pink Lady”.

The other public transport services in the nation’s capital at that time were the stage bus services, such as the dark blue and white Sri Jaya Bus. Others included Cityliner, Len Seng Omnibus Company; Toong Foong; Foh Hup and Metrobus.

The mini bus service came to an end in 1998 as the authorities sought to address the shortcomings of the service as well as consolidate the public transportation service in the federal capital. It was during this time that some of the stage bus service, such as Sri Jaya and bas mini, were merged into the Intrakota Komposit bus service, which eventually evolved into the Rapid Bus system of today. It is now the largest bus operator in Malaysia, operating mainly in Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Kuantan. The evolution of public transportation in Malaysia not only involved stage buses, but also saw the birth of the Mass Rapid Transit system.

The first indication of an alternative means of moving people came to light in 1984, when the then Federal Territory Minister, Tan Sri Shahrir Abdul Samad, released details of a Light Rail Transit (LRT) implementation study for Kuala Lumpur.

Though it did not take off, it eventually led to the emergence of the KTM Komuter service. It covered routes in the Tanjung Malim-Rawang-Kuala Lumpur-Port Klang sector; Batu Caves-Kuala Lumpur-Seremban sector; Bukit Mertajam-Padang Regas sector, as well as the Butterworth-Padang Besar sector.

In addition, there’s the light rail services in the form of Sistem Transit Aliran Ringan Sdn Bhd (STAR LRT), Projek Usahasama Transit Ringan Automatik Sdn Bhd (Putra LRT) and KL Monorail. Today, they have morphed into the Kelana Jaya Line; Sri Petaling Line; Ampang Line; Sg Buloh-Kajang Line (Phase 1) and the KL Monorail. In addition, the other public transport initiative in place is the BRT Sunway Line, a bus rapid transit line, and the Sungai Buloh-Kajang Line, Phase 2, which commenced service in July.

The high-speed rail project and others, including the proposed MRT 3 circle line in the coming years, are likely to see a smoother ride for the public, as it is today with the Rapid KL bus. The public transportation system today has addressed many flaws of the past — and as you sit in a commuter train, there is no longer the loud “masuk dalam, masuk dalam”, but rather, the soothing “stesen berikutnya... Ampang”, in the comfort of a secure, spacious and air-conditioned coach.

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B. Suresh Ram, is a curious cat who believes that his curiosity is going to get the better of him one day. This Perak-born Tottenham Hotspurs supporter has two decades of journalism under his belt.