Double Decker buses in Penang by end 2011?

TRANSIT noted a very interesting article in the newspaper, also cross posted by RapidPenang on their own website.

The article highlighting RapidPenang's interest in purchasing double-decker buses by the end of 2011. Image courtesy of RapidPenang.

Click here for a larger version of the image above.

More information can be found in the articles below

Double deckers for state (The Star)
26 September 2010
By EDMUND NGO

GEORGE TOWN: Double-decker Rapid Penang buses, which can take up to 100 passengers each, will ply major routes at the end of next year, said Rapid Penang chief executive officer Azhar Ahmad.

He said these double deckers and 140 more normal-sized stage buses would be brought in under the 10th Malaysian Plan.

Azhar said Penang would be the first state in Malaysia to have double-decker stage buses.

“These double deckers are of the same width but higher than our current buses. They are very cost-effective,” he said, adding that current Rapid Penang buses could carry up to 60 passengers each.

Azhar explained that these double-deckers would hit the streets in stages to ply routes in high-density areas like Air Itam, Paya Terubong, Bayan Baru and Bukit Gedung.

“We will not impose higher fares for those using these buses,” Azhar told reporters during a Hari Raya open house held by Rapid Penang at the Weld Quay Bus Depot here yesterday.

On a separate matter, Azhar proposed to the state government that free bus services run on the first two days of the coming Chinese New Year.

“Many people return to Penang during the festive season and if the proposal is approved, we will be able to reduce traffic congestion,” he said.

He has also proposed a similar bus service from the mainland to the Bayan Lepas Free Trade Zone.

“This service, involving three buses, will operate like the Central Area Transit shuttle buses as we want to reduce congestion on the bridge,” he said.

He added that if approved, the ‘Park and Ride’ system would also be implemented on the mainland.

“The system will allow bus commuters to park their cars in the bus station and ride the bus to the island,” he said.

From the above articles, we can see that RapidPenang is getting 200 buses as part of the 10th Malaysia Plan, including 140 “normal” buses and 60 “double decker” buses. Double Decker buses can carry approximately 100 passengers as opposed to 60 passengers for “normal” buses.

RapidPenang is also planning to introduce some service initiatives to encourage people to use public transport in Penang such as free service on the first 2 days of Chinese New Year (very laudable, especially if it could be combined with a programme promoting active transport like walking & bicycle/trishaw riding), and a year round free shuttle service to the Bayan Lepas Free Trade Zone.

Unfortunately, some people have decided to take a negative view of the investment in double decker buses, as seen below:

NGOs sceptical of need for double-decker buses (The Star)
28 September 2010

SEVERAL non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have questioned the need for double-decker buses in Penang, claiming it seemed more like a novelty.

Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) president S. M. Mohd Idris said it could be just a fad that would eventually cause problems.

He said Rapid Penang must first conduct a study to see whether the people needed such buses which could be popular initially.

“But over time, high maintenance and passenger issues will crop up,” he told reporters during CAP’s annual lunch gathering at its training centre in Jalan Air Itam yesterday.

[TRANSIT: What exactly does that mean? How is the purchase of Double Decker buses a “novelty” or “fad”? After all, this is not a “hop on, hop off” service for tourists]

Mohd Idris was commenting on news reports on Sunday that Rapid Penang would introduce 60 double-decker buses to ply major routes at the end of next year.

Rapid Penang chief executive officer Azhar Ahmad was quoted as saying the buses could take up to 100 passengers each and would hit the streets in high-density areas like Air Itam, Paya Terubong, Bayan Baru and Bukit Gedung.

He [Idris] said in the 1950s, double-decker buses were introduced in Penang but the services were eventually stopped due to high maintenance costs.

“Instead of introducing the huge double-decker buses, Rapid Penang could look into having smaller buses plying shorter routes which will be of real convenience to the man on the street,” he added.

[TRANSIT: That sounds like minibus service, doesn’t it? And we saw that minibus service has worked so well in Malaysian cities, including Penang. Actually, RapidPenang does operate some smaller buses on some smaller routes where necessary but people like Idris need to realize that the “smaller buses on smaller routes” concept does not work as part of an overall public transport system.]

Penang-based Citizens for Public Transport (Cepat) co-ordinator and a member of the Penang State Transport Council Dr Choong Sim Poey said he could not see how double-decker buses would help increase the efficiency of the public transportation system.

“The present Rapid Penang buses are still not fully loaded as a result of inconsistent traffic schedule caused by traffic congestion.

“Rapid Penang has to look into issues such as bottle-necks and traffic congestion before introducing such buses because bigger buses would require higher maintenance.

TRANSIT: Dr. Choong is a member of the Penang State Transport Council, which has the ear of the State Government, and authority over the Penang Island Town Council (MPPP) and Seberang Prai Town Council (MPSP). In contrast, RapidPenang is a private corporation owned by Prasarana, which is a government linked company.

So if anyone has the authority and the ability (and the responsibility) to look at traffic congestion, it is the Penang Transport Council, not RapidPenang! And surely RapidPenang knows more about the cost and maintenance of “bigger buses” than the Penang Transport Council?

Azhar said Rapid Penang wanted to introduce the double-decker buses not because it was a novelty but due to requests by commuters via the company’s e-mail and telephone calls.

“These buses are cost-effective and will only be plying high density areas,” he said.

Azhar said it had been proven to be effective and popular in countries like Hong Kong and Singapore.

[TRANSIT: And cities like London and many other cities in the UK, as well as Victoria in Canada]

He added that the company had carried out a test in July where a double-decker bus was used to ply the Teluk Bahang, Paya Terubong and Bukit Gedung routes over a few days.

“It had proven to be cost-effective as it involves the capacity of two bus loads at one and a half cost of a normal bus,” he said.

TRANSIT Says:

Once again we have to extend congratulations to RapidPenang. Instead of dreaming about building LRT (or the bigger dream of MRT), RapidPenang has worked to continuously improve the quality of their bus service, improving on an already solid foundation of service.

Adding double-decker buses to the existing fleet will not mean that there will be a huge increase in the number of passengers carried – but it is the next logical step given the constraints in Georgetown – namely the narrow roads and tight turns.

The concerns from the NGOs as described above are quite misplaced. Purchasing double decker buses is more efficient because it is cost effective for the company to help reduce their operational costs. The suggestion of “smaller buses plying smaller routes” is a nice one but it increases operational costs and may not prove effective (learning from the minibus fiasco).

TRANSIT is looking forward to seeing the other “next step” improvements at RapidPenang – likely to include Touch ‘n’ Go service, intercity RapidBET-style “commuter bus” service to major cities in the Northern Corridor Economic Region, and the introduction of bus lanes and / or Bus Rapid Transit service on the Jelutong Expressway corridor.

What are your thoughts on RapidPenang’s anticipated purchase of double decker buses and their gradual “next step” improvements? Please share your comments below.

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6 thoughts on “Double Decker buses in Penang by end 2011?”

  1. Dear Transit,

    From my observation, I found that CAP President have make alot of statement that not based on scientific evidence or scientific knowledge. So, i m doubt with all his statement in the media. Its more to a Personal opinion. Not long ago, he was commenting on different blood test result in different laboratory.and even make his own “experiment” which is not guided by Standard Operating Procedure and without the knowledge about Uncertainty of Measurement. He don’t have the expertise about medical laboratory and yet he gave his conclusions. and many other issues…. So if i m you, i dont even bother with his statement. and why the media like to take his Statement?Is there no Expertise in Malaysia ? Is there no University professor that could answer such question??
    In other countries, The media always refer to University professor that major and research in related field for opinion. I found its akward in Malaysia..

  2. How can the Penang-based Citizens for Public Transport (Cepat) co-ordinator and a member of the Penang State Transport Council ask a bus company to look after traffic problems? The authorities such as Penang state Transport Council should be responsible to the bottleneck of the traffic. Rapid Penang buses mostly stuck in certain areas due to insufficient of law enforcement. Cars are park illegally along the road and bus stops. This blocked the buses from moving forward.

  3. There are also certain Malaysian made cars which are known to have very high maintenance. Does it mean that all cars are the same and people should stop using cars?What is the CAP President talking about?What does he know about the maintenance of buses and how can he assume that the current ones with much newer technologies are having the same problems with those in 1950s?This guy is still sleeping.If the maintenance is really that high, then countries like Hong Kong, Singapore and UK would have stopped using those double decker buses since long time ago.The member of Penang State Transport Council has not been carrying out its duties to improve the traffic situation in Penang but instead, he chose to push his responsibilities to others and criticise a private company for trying to introduce a good idea to improve the traffic situation. These NGO just love to complain about everything, be it good or bad, just for the sake of making noise.

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