Do bus lanes worsen congestion?

TRANSIT has taken note of a number of letters complaining about traffic congestion on Jalan Syed Putra.

Both writers claim that peak hour congestion on Jalan Syed Putra is worsened by the presence of bus lanes which operate during the daytime, as well as the behaviour of bus drivers.

They also cite the bus stop opposite MidValley MegaMall as a major bottleneck point.

The question is, are they right or wrong? The answer might surprise you.

From: Improve system or abolish bus lanes, by Richard Y.W. Yeoh
I …. urge DBKL to do an urgent review of the bus lane system in Kuala Lumpur, in particular the stretch along Jalan Syed Putra, which has been reduced to two lanes on both sides of the highway as a result of the bus lanes. I have raised this matter at various forums and meetings over the years but nothing has been done.

The bus lanes are operational six days a week from 6am until 8am. Bus lanes should operate only at peak hours and only if there is an efficient bus system which, sad to say, we still do not have.

It is painful to see traffic congested on two lanes of the highway while the bus lane is empty or used by buses that run sporadically. Bus lanes are not for show and we must make sure there are buses using them regularly. If not, please abolish these bus lanes. And thus, I am very alarmed that there are plans to increase bus lanes in Kuala Lumpur.

TRANSIT Says:

We have been arguing for a long time that there is a need to improve the way that bus lanes are placed in and around Kuala Lumpur.

An artist's impression of contra-flow bus rapid transit.
An artist's impression of contra-flow bus rapid transit.

TRANSIT believes that bus lanes are a wise investment for federal, state and local governments to make, and that the number of bus lanes along major roads in cities across Malaysia should be increased wherever possible. If they are well-used, a single bus lane can move far more people than a mixed-traffic lane.

By separating different types of traffic, the flow of traffic is generally improved. Also, the presence of bus lanes has a calming effect on traffic. Less lane changing also means fewer delays for motorists.

Artist's impression of the Bangkok Bus Rapid Transit line, currently under construction.
Artist's impression of the Bangkok Bus Rapid Transit line, currently under construction.

At the same time, we recognize that there are weaknesses in the way that bus lanes are introduced and implemented in the Klang Valley and we realize that if the DBKL, Federal Territories Ministry, SPAD and the public transport operators do not work to overcome these weaknesses, bus lanes will not be able to reach their full potential for moving people who use public transport.

The first weakness is related to the competitive, entrepreneurial model of public transport that is used in Malaysia. Because the majority of bus operators must maximize profits, they are more likely to wait at spots where there are many potential passengers – such as opposite MidValley Megamall in KL, or opposite Sunway Pyramid in Bandar Sunway.

By shifting from a competitive, entrepreneurial model to a competitive, service-based model, we can reduce the number of delays at bus stops.

Bus lanes may also operate on a contra-flow basis, meaning that in the morning, only bus lanes towards the city should be operational while in the evening, bus lanes leaving the city should be operational. This is only logical considering that people commute into the city in the mornings and commute out in the evenings.

The present system, which effectively reduces the six-lane expressway to a four-lane crawl and in place since 1997 without any review or adjustment truly defies logic.

TRANSIT Says:

The second issue is the type of bus lanes themselves.  Generally, the bus lanes in the Klang Valley are painted kerbside bus lanes, which are often not complete and can be easily blocked by parked vehicles. A stroll next to the DBKL building on Jalan Raja Laut will show many DBKL vehicles blocking the bus lane. Frankly, without effective enforcement, bus lanes cannot move people effectively.

The best solution to reduce the number of vehicles blocking the bus lanes is to physically separate the bus lanes from the regular traffic using kerbs or bollards. Also, contra-flow lanes will discourage other vehicles from using the bus lanes.

Istanbul, Turkey METROBUS running contra-flow in the centre of the highway, to reduce infrastructure costs

The last issue is that bus lanes are not given their proper place in the hierarchy of lanes on our roadways. Because a bus can carry 60 people, 10 x more than a car, bus lanes should be placed in the centre of our highways and expressways to move more people.

It is time for the Federal Territories Ministry, SPAD, state governments, DBKL and Local Councils to rethink how we design our roads and expressways. Instead of focusing on moving vehicles, we should focus on moving as many people, as quickly and effectively as possible.

The bus stop along Jalan Syed Putra that serves MidValley also needs to be relocated to a proper place. It has been the cause of traffic congestion along that stretch all these years as there is no lay-by for the buses to stop. This is worsened by impatient bus drivers who cannot wait their turn to move but insist on overtaking by using the regular lanes.

TRANSIT Says:

Placing bus lanes in the centre of the highway, and physically separating the bus lanes from other traffic will allow the buses to move at high speed, and encourage service that is more frequent, punctual and reliable. In addition, there will be reduced congestion because of the increased flow of traffic in the other lanes of the highways & roadways.

Physically separated bus lanes means that there will be no lane changes, so this will reduce a major cause of congestion. Also, using contra-flow lanes will allow the buses to share space, so the bus lanes can be narrower. This means that other traffic will have more space available. Wider lanes mean that traffic can flow at a faster rate.

Istanbul, Turkey METROBUS running contra-flow in the centre of the highway, with simple shared platforms

Finally, instead of having bus stops at the side of our highways, we can build ‘stations’ with platforms in the centre of the highways. These will be more comfortable and safer for public transport users and having fewer bus stops at the sides of the highway would allow the highways to be widened in certain stretches.

If the Road Transport Act can be amended to encourage these improved bus lanes, we will see more reliable public transport service and reduced congestion on our highways and roadways. This will help our roads & highways become more effective at moving people and moving the economy.

TRANSIT invites you to comment on our proposal for improved bus lanes. Simply email us at klangvalley.transit@gmail.com or comment at http://transitmy.org/2010/03/17/do-bus-lanes-worsen-congestion/‎.

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10 thoughts on “Do bus lanes worsen congestion?”

  1. Although I can’t speak on behalf of buses, I can attest to dedicated tram lanes from the public transport experience in Melbourne.

    Trams in Melbourne have their own dedicated tram lanes, as well as tram stops, and can be seen travelling concurrently with most private transport. Some of the tracks are exposed to the crossings of private transport and pedestrians, but all in all, they enjoy a near-exclusive right-of-way.

    The idea is a noble one, but calling for a similar implementation of buses in KL? A project of this size would have to be both radical (along Malaysian thinking) and well-thought-out, coupled with proper enforcement. Something that I’m not sure I can see our authorities engaging in at the moment.

  2. I travel almost daily in the KL Rapid bus and with the introduction of bus-lanes, there is vast improvement in the movement of the buses. However, there is dire shot of enforcement officials along the lanes. There is a tendency for other vehicles to use the lanes and thus holding back the movement of buese. Another bostacle is the bus/vehicle waiting in the busstop zone. The bus drivers must be instructed to stop at the right place to pick up commuters not any where they like. It is dangerours to have the young and old chasing after the bus. To the officers, please come out of your comfort zone to see what is happening outside if you want to improve the system. Put up neon signs to denote that bus lanes `In Operation` to warn errant motorists.

    1. Lim, thanks very much for your feedback. You have some very good ideas and we will work to getting DBKL and the Federal Territories Ministry to pay attention.

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

  3. Wow, I like the idea of the separated bus lane, it works well just like having an electric rail link in the city. I hope Kuching will adopt this in the process of changing the entire public transport system and developing the inffrastructure facilities like what has been taking place in Bangkok and Istanbul.

    1. Li

      It is quite possible that the Kuching CAT would look something like the Istanbul Metrobus system. If the public makes it clear that this is what they want, then this is what they may actually get.

      Regards,

      Moaz for TRANSIT

  4. Like the Turkey METROBUS with teh electrionic signage system showing the number and destination. However, I have not seen any public transport in KUching using this 😦

  5. hi .

    Iove to see a better way of putting the bus lane in the klang valley… or Klang Valley should thinking of having BRT with 18 meter articulated buses.. travelling at most of the truck road,,

    just imagine.. an articulated bus running running freely from klang to kl via federal highway…the journe that took me 45-60 minutes from shah alam to KL can be reduced by only 15-20 minutes.. will attract more to join public transport bandwagon..

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