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Tuesday, 13 March 2018 | MYT 12:00 AM

CAT service enables lower-income folk to travel in comfort

THE best things in life are free. When you don’t know where to go, any road will take you there. Sometimes, don’t think; just do.

All these wise sayings came to me one day while ruminating on where to eat.

Our office in Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, George Town, does not have a cafeteria and so lunch time is always a mental battle of deciding where to eat.

For quick and easy, there is chapati and chicken curry in a stall in Little India.

Or I could head to Esplanade Park Food Court for the RM10 chicken chop.

Or I could settle for two packets of Beach Street nasi lemak at RM1.60 each in Sri Weld Food Court as my meal.

While struggling over the many choices one day, I passed the bus stop beside St George’s Church and the Central Area Transit (CAT) bus came.

This bus offers free rides. The service began in 2001 by the previous state government and the current one continued with it.

On the spur of the moment, I hopped in and let the bus decide my lunch for me.

I had no idea where the bus was going and only hoped it would head to someplace nice for me to find food.

It stopped at the Weld Quay bus terminal and when I got off, another CAT bus was about to leave so I hopped into that one.

I stood in the bus, busily typing out a news article on my phone, when a lady tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I would like to sit down.

She was in her 50s and had a small tear on her blouse.

“Oh aunty, I don’t mind standing,” I told her.

She said I looked so preoccupied with my phone and she was worried I would fall if the bus stopped suddenly.

Diagram showing the free Central Area Transit shuttle routes in the city.

So I kept my phone and focused on the free ride. It seemed like such a privilege for the bus commuters to hop on and off as they liked without needing to pay a cent.

I saw senior citizens, students, tourists and foreign workers.

Besides me, I didn’t see a single office worker board the bus. No one in corporate wear. No working people using the bus to go somewhere and get work done.

The bus went to Komtar and there, I got my noonday meal; a pleasant departure from eating in the George Town heritage zone all the time.

Since then, I use the CAT bus whenever I need to head to Komtar for press conferences.

I have never had to wait more than 15 or 20 minutes for it. I write news on my phone while waiting for the bus and never feel the time pass.

The bus rides give me the chance to feel the pulse of the city, strike conversations with friendly aunties and brief the boss about my work while travelling in an air-conditioned space.

I see the same faces often. Many of them obviously come from the humbler side of life and I would smile inwardly when I see the rare office worker board the bus.

I think the free bus rides help ease their living expenses.

The whole idea of CAT is to encourage people to leave their cars parked and use public transport for short commutes.

So here I am telling my fellow Penangites that it works!

The trips are comfortable and relaxing and the service is efficient.

Don’t feel the compulsion to drive around in the city so much. We will only add to the traffic jams.

Though there might be no such thing as a free lunch, there is definitely such a thing as a free ride in Penang.

Just drop by to view the CAT bus’ route.