SARNGA DHARAN NAMBIAR –
What’s the metaphysical dimension of movement? Do we keep moving, encouraged by some inherent sub-conscious bio-urge that works to make sense of life through the mechanics of kinetics? Why is it that even as the body is at rest, one’s mind undertakes great passionate journeys?
And movement is big business too. Logistics with its sub-domain of transportation is a key element of today’s economy. Within this, mass transportation has its own identity and potential.
Since the world’s first public bus line in France was launched some three centuries ago, bus-based mass transit has grown in stature. The global bus rapid transport systems (BRT) market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 10 per cent during the period 2018-2022.
Journeys — one of the expanded dimensions of movement — involving unbelievably great distances and driven by a primitive quest for the distant and the unknown, have been a key cultural-cum-economic characteristic of the Omani way of living. Sindbad still lives on here, with his inspiring travel legends. However, since the beginning of the renaissance, camels and horses gave way to cars and airplanes as the means to fulfil the travel quest of Omanis and expatriates in Oman.
Public transport in the Sultanate was redefined in 1972, when the Oman National Transport Co (ONTC) was established as a government-owned company towards offering a more accessible and affordable travel option to the people of the Sultanate. Its mission statement remains simple: ‘Encourage the use of public transport,’ while it’s guided by the vision of providing a Safe, Accessible and Reliable Public Transport in the Sultanate.
ONTC became a permanent member of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) in 1983, and is the leading public transport company in the Sultanate of Oman. The next year, ONTC was given permission to provide public transport services across the length and breadth of the Sultanate by a Royal Decree.
The company got a new brand identity ‘Mwasalat’ in 2015. Mwasalat-operated BRT system has been gaining in popularity owing to world-class amenities for passengers, increased number of routes and frequency of services that are marked for punctuality. It today serves as a strong link that connects people and destinations across the Sultanate and beyond, with a fleet strength of more than 500 buses comprising of Mini Buses, Low Floor Buses, Long Distance Coaches and state of the art Super Luxury Coaches.
Year 2018 marked a significant period for Mwasalat: it launched the widely appreciated airport taxi services at the Muscat International Airport in February, and introduced public transport services in Salalah and Suhar in December. And figures indicate how strongly people connect with the brand: in the initial days of its launch in these cities, daily passenger numbers averaged 3,000 in each city.
Not just that, Mwasalat opened the Sultanate’s first solar-powered bus waiting shelter at the Oman Avenues Mall stop last year. Its integrated bus maintenance and service workshop was also opened in 2018. The company achieved ISO 9001:2015 certificate for drivers’ training in the same year, the first to get the certification in the Middle East.
While the Mwasalat buses, offering state-of-the-art facilities including free WiFi, are mostly used by expatriates, nationals too are finding it convenient, especially for long journeys. According to statistics, as many as 4.5 million passengers used Mwasalat buses in 2017, of which 40 per cent were Omani nationals. The number of passengers marked an impressive 21 per cent increase compared to 2016.
Mwasalat’s MAN brand of buses are equipped with accident prevention systems and adaptive cruise control features.
In line with the government’s e-governance strategies, Mwasalat fully implemented the electronic payment system for shipping services and long-haul travel using debit and credit cards in all its offices.
Mwasalat offers 24×7 reliable taxi services, and long-term contract hire facilities with vehicle and driver along with crew if needed. Vehicles for hire include small vans, large luxury coaches and off-roaders. The demand for Mwasalat buses and coaches for short term uses such as weddings and picnics has been on the rise. Mwasalat also offers services to schools in Muscat with added safety systems onboard, apart from providing shuttle services for aircrew, and cargo and freight services.
And every time those magnificent buses in their trademark dark red colour gently appear at a distance, a smile lightens up the faces of people waiting at the Mwasalat bus stops. They know their wait is worth it.