In August 2007, the area within the municipal boundaries of the capital was expanded from just under 13 sq km to 100 sq km, in part a reflection of the development of new urban, trade and industrial hubs further away from Bandar Seri Begawan's central business district.
As the city has grown, so too has the locals' dependence on cars to get around, with more than one vehicle for every adult over the age of 19 on the roads, according to a study conducted by University Brunei Darussalam. This congestion, especially in Bandar Seri Begawan, combined with a lack of adequate public transport options, has prompted national and municipal authorities to develop a long-term plan that aims to turn the capital into what has been described as a "city in a garden" by 2015. The broader plan is to take into account issues such as waterfront developments, tourist attractions and strategies, successful development and catalyst projects, along with transportation.
Public workshops conducted late last year showed there was a high level of demand for solutions to traffic congestion in the capital, along with a push for the introduction of a multimodal transport system, increased walkability and connectivity between centres, and promotion of non-motorised transport.
With the public response in mind, an efficient and environmentally friendly transport system for the capital is a priority of the master plan currently being developed, according to Mohammad Ramli Hj Zulkifli, deputy chairman of the Bandar Seri Begawan Municipal Board.
While it is likely that a much-improved bus network will be at the core of the transport scheme – with electric rather than hydrocarbon vehicles an option – light rail or tram systems are also being considered, Mohammad Ramli told a media briefing on January 18.
"This would of course incur high investment, however in the long run it can contribute to the enhancement of our economic development," he said. "In the long run we will save our resources. Our energy resource is oil and gas, and if we go on with the same pace we are at now, we will deplete our resources quickly," he added.
Using electrically powered transport, will lead to a reduction of pollution in the capital and a fall in the number of cars on the roads, meaning there would be cost savings and direct benefits to the environment, said Mohammad Ramli.
According to Robert Marshall, senior vice-president of HOK Planning Group, the consultancy firm tasked with overseeing the design and formulation of the Bandar Seri Begawan development master plan, the future of transportation in the city will involve a mix of different transport modes.
"There will always be private vehicles, but there has to be more diversity when it comes to transport options," Marshall said in an interview with local media in late December. "We are looking to make it much more convenient for those living in denser areas of the city to just walk out of their apartment and have access to public transport taking them where they want to go."
The planned improvements are not only aimed at making life easier for locals, they are also intended to increase the appeal and accessibility of Bandar Seri Begawan for tourists.
One proposal being considered it to link the city centre with the international airport on the capital's outskirts by ferry service, providing tourists with a scenic introduction to their visit.
While possibly appealing to visitors, Bandar Seri Begawan's own residents may need more encouragement than the offer of a nice view to make the move to public transport. With existing services limited and struggling to build a reputation for convenience and punctuality, many in the capital prefer to rely on private transport. This situation has been acknowledged by Francis N L Sootoo, the executive director of transportation, planning and research at consultancy firm MVA Asia. Feedback from the public indicated that there was a low approval rating for the existing network, with extra efforts needed to entice people to take buses, he told local media in late December 2009
"We have to make sure that these services are reliable in terms of schedule and frequency, and that we have the proper infrastructure, with enough bus stops and shelters to support them," said Sootoo.
The total cost of implementing the transportation master plan for the capital has not yet been announced. However, with the various components of the scheme still in their draft stages, the outlay will probably be extensive if Bandar Seri Begawan is to get a multifaceted transport system that will both serve the needs of the public and meet the lofty ambitions of its proponents. However, while the short-term investments may put some red ink in municipal account books, the longer-term outcome is likely to be coloured green.