Creating a bus system that works

One of the topics that is dear to the heart of the people at TRANSIT is the bus system and how to make it efficient, well-managed and most of all, effective. That means, how do we create a bus system that is stable (functionally and financially) and reliable, with frequent service that is appropriate to our tropical climate.

All that we have seen over the past few years of studying public bus transport in the Klang Valley, Malaysia and other countries has shown us that, in order for a public transport system or bus transport system to be effective, the government has to become involved in the management and funding of public transport.

In the Malaysian context, the government takes a total “hands-off” approach to bus transport except for the control of permits. However, as you can see from the article below, the “hands-off” approach does not apply to government linked (as in, government-owned) companies, RapidKL and RapidPenang. And that is upsetting a major player in the public transport industry.

Klang Valley bus service needs restructuring (The Star)

Saturday June 26, 2010

The biggest private bus operator, Datuk Mohd Nadzmi Mohd Salleh, talks about the challenges in the business and what needs to be done to overhaul bus service

RUNNING a private bus operations in the Klang Valley today is not a viable business, says Datuk Mohd Nadzmi Salleh, the biggest private bus operator. Nadzmi, who had bought the privatised Kumpulan Kenderaan Malaysia Bhd (KKMB) from Mara Holdings in 1997, says he has suffered “millions of ringgit of losses” in the running of public “stage” and express buses.

“I regret venturing into this business,” says the chairman of Konsortium Transnasional Bhd (KTB) in a candid interview with StarBizWeek recently.

Among the factors that has made bus operations non-profitable over the years is the escalating cost of operations including purchase of buses and rising staff salaries.

Datuk Mohd Nadzmi Salleh says the Government should tender out specific routes to private companies, with the most suitable candidates chosen. Image courtesy of The Star.

The government-imposed cap on ticketing prices has been another issue why it is difficult to sustain the business.

However, he reckons that the biggest blow to private operators is the situation since 2004 when RapidKL ventured into the business of operating buses. “In almost all our the routes that we ply in the Klang Valley, we are up against RapidKL,” says Nadzmi, who is also chairman of Proton Holdings Bhd since January this year.

To be sure, it has long been the grouse of operators like Nadzmi that they are in a disadvantageous position, having to compete with the government-owned RapidKL

RapidKL, or Rangkaian Pengangkutan Intergrasi Deras Sdn Bhd, is owned by Syarikat Prasarana Negara Bhd, which in turn is 100% owned by the Finance Ministry.

Another significant problem is the lack of drivers, as there are so many companies wanting to hire them as well as lack of controls over how ticket sales is managed, says Nadzmi.

Nadzmi says the Government [TRANSIT: Which government? Federal, State or Local?] should tender out specific routes to private companies, with the most suitable candidates chosen. In return, the operator is paid a fixed fee per km that they run, which includes the operators’ cost plus a profit margin.

[TRANSIT: Or, the government can just operate the service directly as an arm of the government and skip the need to pay operator costs and profit margin.]

Ticket sales on the other hand should be entirely in the hands of the Government, using prepaid tickets.

“All revenue should go directly to the Government. While the Government may not necessarily make a profit from this (after paying the operators’ fixed fee) it would certainly not be making the losses Prasarana is enduring today. So the Government will be paying less to subsidise public transport.”

[TRANSIT: That would of course depend on how much costs Nadzmi or other operators would claim, as well as how much they would want in profits.]

Star Graphic showing different methods of government involvement in bus operations. Click here for a larger view.

To ensure that operators provide a high quality of service, certain key performance indicators or a customer service index can be created to ensure that bus companies do their jobs well.

Interestingly, Nadzmi’s plans are not too different from those of the recently-formed Land Public Transport Authority or SPAD.

[Or TRANSIT, for that matter! See our proposals in our Ideas page!]

But Nadzmi had earlier expressed his disappointment about not being included in the urban public transport laboratory that had come up with plans to revamp the public bus sector.

Nadzmi has also played a key role in the development of the Express Rail Link service and has been the executive chairman of ERL Sdn Bhd since its started operations in 2001. The ERL remains the only major private sector-driven public transport project that does not needed to be bailed out by the Government.

[TRANSIT: Interestingly enough, we recall an “investigation” of sorts by The Sun newspaper which noted that ERL receives a piece of the Airport fees paid by every passenger who uses KLIA – even if they are not using the ERL. So that, plus the reasonably good fares, might explain why ERL has not needed a government bailout.]

TRANSIT Says:

We have always wondered why, despite so many people thinking “the same way” the only notable improvements to public transport in the past few years has been a revival of an old fare system (Touch n Go based payment), new flexible payment options, and a bus service (RapidBET) that carries an extra 1500 passengers per day but is trumpeted as a major success by the government.

The idea that enters our mind is that, while everyone privately agrees that the existing system is not working, few of us have the guts to admit it in public – and even fewer have the guts to do what it will take to unravel the existing mess and change the system from within.

Even when a government is interested in taking a more active role (yes, we’re talking about Malacca) they have the wrong idea about how to implement an effective, government-managed public transport system – not to mention, the operators are sending the wrong message too!

Fortunately, public transport researcher and blogger Dr. Paul Barter has done some of the necessary research and his interesting findings and summary can be found on his blog, Reinventing Transport. Of particular interest to this topic is one of his older postings, Bus Systems that Work. We at TRANSIT think it is definitely worth reading.

Advertisements

12 thoughts on “Creating a bus system that works”

  1. Something is always striking me when there are articles on bus transport here: why Metrobus’ driver reckless behaviour is never mentioned? Why Metrobus is not banned operating their antiquated, gas-guzzler and heavily polluting bus?

    1. @Disinto

      Thanks for your comment. The issue with Metrobus is similar to the whole issue related to the bus system. On the larger scale, everyone knows what is wrong and what needs to be done to improve the system but they are unable to get started. Similarly, on the smaller scale everyone knows that Metrobus is the worst example but they do not know what to do about it.

      It does not help that some people regularly suggest that Metrobus is a “well-connected” company – which has different possible connotations (political connections, criminal connections, police connections, a mix of all three?).

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

  2. Hi Moaz, thanks for your input.
    In that case, I wonder why RapidKL can achieve much better results than Metrobus? They have better, newer and greener buses, decent driving, proper identification, proper direction signage and they don’t hassle you at terminus stops (check the Metrobus ‘de facto’ stop along Jln Sultan Ismail, near HSBC, it’s appalling)
    Granted, as a subsidiary of Prasarana, Rapid KL may receive funds that Metrobus is unable to capture, but this is not a reason to be mediocre and endanger passengers, pedestrians and motorists life.

    1. Hi @Disinto

      Depending on who you talk to, RapidKL is either much better or much worse than Metrobus. We at TRANSIT are much more interested in holding up RapidPenang as an example of how a bus operator should operate.

      RapidKL has improved buses and better organization but that comes from government funding and the slightly strong “accountability” that comes from being “government-linked”. (as opposed to being “well-connected”).

      Another factor is that RapidKL does not use the illegal pajak (pawning) system – their buses are driven by employees, not “independent contractors” as with most of the other companies.

      We at TRANSIT hope that SPAD will begin their actions next week (September 1) by cracking down on “pajak” of buses and taxis.

      Regards, moaz for TRANSIT

  3. TRANSIT,

    This morning while on my way to watch the Merdeka event, I tried to use my Touch N Go card which has a balance of RM10.80(regular TnG card, not the RapidPass) on one RapidKL bus. Unfortunately, the reader shows “Insufficient balance, please use cash”.

    This is shocking because all this while I thought the TnG system on the buses does accept regular TnG card. So I’m wondering why the TnG system implemented on the buses does not accept regular TnG card.

  4. Dear Transit,

    I would like to complain. I think it would be good to send my complaints through here. Normally i will send directly to rapidKL.

    On 12/11/2010, i wait for a bus at Midvalley to KL Sentral. About 4.20 pm. U66 bus arrived. I asked if he will stop at KL sentral, He nod his head. I am not frequent commute in this area by bus. So, i get in and pay RM1.00. No ticket was given. When the bus reached the usual route towards KL sentral, it did not turn in. So,i thought he may used other roads to KL sentral. Then suddenly, we were in “China town” area. I asked again if he going to KL sentral cz i want to take monorail, he pointed his finger and nod his head like he will going to KL sentral. Then we reached “old klang” bus stop near Pasar Seni LRT around 4.40 pm. I asked again, …I say that is not Monorail. he scolded me and the other “bangla” say that we should disembark earlier. and he chased us out from the bus. he say “finish”. But he didnt pass KL sentral in the first place..Nor he tell us to disembark….

    This is very very bad attitude of a bus driver. and why there is no ticket given? I am suspect that, he putting the money in his own pocket. Unrecorded money.and why that he allow us to get in the bus the first place if he not going to KL sentral? And why along the route, he just nod the head and just finger point. however, i didnt get the bus plate number, and there is no bus driver identification that i could see. But i can recognize the driver. If possible i would like to see photos of drivers of u66 on 12/11/2010. and make a effective complain,

    He has wasted my precious time and presenting a very classical reasons to why people are turn off from using public transport

    I hope Transit can help…. i like this to be answer by Rapid KL. and what action would be taken against errant driver, and finally the summary and followup. This act tarnish public confident and public perception over Public transporation as a whole with such irresponsible and possible dishonest act….. (are Rapid KL underpay their staff?)

    1. HI @Goh

      Your complaint is a very serious one and we know that RapidKL takes customer service and pilferage more and more seriously now.

      We will contact RapidKL and Prasarana and share your story, and we hope to get a good response from them.

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

  5. Yes, i know… i like things to be clear up. When this happen that day, i try to call the call center Immediately but to my disappointment, the call center number in a feedback paper given by a staff at Pasar Seni LRT, not contactable.In fact i was told to fill up a feed back form. this actually very slow action. I like to know if they have effective call center that we could call immediately when things happen? so that, it more easy to identify the driver and more easy to resolve problems.

  6. Complain have been sent to Rapid KL..till now i didn’t have any follow up. in other word , its still open-ended cases..this is not good.

    1. @Goh

      It is not good to hear this. We suggest that you take your complaint to the Land Public Transport Commission, given that RapidKL has not responded to you.

      Information on how to contact the Land Public Transport Commission can be found at the left side of our website.

      You may also wish to email us with further details at klangvalley.transit@gmail.com

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

  7. wow Mr. Goh, you really do take it seriously.

    usually when one (average person who uses public transport in KL) faces an incident such as yours, they would usually turn a blind eye or get angry for a couple of days and forget about it.

    Also about the U66 bus route, or many of the rapidkl bus routes can be quite confusing if you are new to it or not a frequent user. There may be changes to the route.

    In the past, when they had the “hub and spoke bus service” most of the bus in Area 5 and 6 had to make a stop at kl sentral, eventually as the system broke down, they returned to the old route by-passing kl sentral

    http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&t=h&source=embed&oe=UTF8&msa=0&msid=218290287637771000741.00049936b8ccea7b9f179

    http://www.myrapid.com.my/journeyplanner/bus/details?code=U66

    so when you expected the bus to make a turn in to that smoky service area that is KL sentral, the bus didn’t.

    Part of the problem with rapidkl is that they love to limit their liability or their service to the public by having an awesome fine print; they reserve to change service without any notice blah blah blah.

    As for the bus driver who is playing the system, well he is the product of the Malaysian education system. Also, you should trying spamming your complaint on their twitter feed or start-up a facebook group. There can never be to many of those.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s