Bus-Rapid Transit is coming to KL-town (Update #1)

TRANSIT was told about this interesting article in the Streets-NST describing a plan for dedicated bus lanes along 13 corridors in Kuala Lumpur – bus lanes that would be separated from other traffic by kerbs.

This scan of the cut-out article also gives feedback from commuters on the BRT proposal.

This system is similar to the “Bus-Rapid Transit” design concept – a way to make bus service more efficient by replicating the most positive features of a rapid transit system (the dedicated right-of-way, high frequency and comfortable “stations”) with the lower implementation & operations costs of a bus system.

FOR BUSES ONLY
2011/05/06
By Halim Said
streets@nstp.com.my

KUALA LUMPUR: Plans for a dedicated inter-city bus lanes with barriers are currently in the pipeline.

A motorist misusing the bus lane during peak hours. Image courtesy of the NST.

The Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) is currently studying the feasibility of implementing the system which will be part of the Klang Valley integral public transportation transformation master plan.[TRANSIT: And not a moment too soon – the picture above is only one example of how the existing bus lanes “system” (that’s a generous descriptor) is abused (by motorists and bus drivers) and largely ineffective in reducing traffic congestion and encouraging people to use public transport.]

The dedicated lanes with barriers all along the lane is a system that will be applied to the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) concept which will separate the stage buses from busy traffic on main roads.

[TRANSIT: People in Malaysia are really unfamiliar with the concept of bus rapid transit (we’ve never seen it before, so this is not unexpected) and will probably try to understand it in the context our our existing “sit-and-wait-for-passengers” stage bus system. They are not one and the same and the message will have to get out.]

In an exclusive interview with Streets, SPAD chief executive officer Mohd Nur Ismal Kamal revealed that 13 corridors in the Greater KL boundaries have been identified for the development of the BRT lanes.

However, Mohd Nur Ismal said the details of the project will be made known by September as the master plan is still being reviewed by SPAD.

He also said meetings with local councils will be held to fine-tune the master plan’s details.

[TRANSIT: We have to wonder if we get a chance to fine tune the master plan – after all, we think we have done a little bit to help many of these ideas (ERT, BRT) gain traction in Malaysia.]

“When the master plan is finished, the public will get to scrutinise it as SPAD intends to display it publicly,” he said.

Though the system may seem similar to the existing special bus and taxi dedicated lanes located around the city, Mohd Nur Ismal said the BRT lanes would only be operated by a single bus operator.

[TRANSIT: That means RapidKL, most likely.]

He said the BRT system would allow the bus operator to provide an efficient bus service as it will be interconnected with other forms of mass transportation in the city such as the LRT service and the soon-to-be-built MRT tracks.

He said passengers who use the BRT lanes will only need to pay at the designated station before boarding the buses which will be located within a walking distance to other transportation networks.

The Bus Rapid Transit system allows the bus operator to provide an efficient service, like this one in Jakarta. Image courtesy of NST.

[TRANSIT: Interestingly enough, the Transjakarta busway actually has multiple operators (bus companies) but one brand (TransJakarta). So we have to ask, why can’t the other stage bus operators compete to provide service on this BRT?]

“The system would facilitate passengers to reach their destinations via an interconnected public transport network, thus encouraging more public transport usage,” he said.

He added if the system is feasible, Malaysia will join other countries such as China, Brazil, Australia, the United States and Europe which have adopted the BRT system and now enjoy a good mass public transportation system.

[TRANSIT: Interesting that he did not mention the Bus Rapid Transit system(s) in our next door neighbours – Bangkok in Thailand, and Jakarta in Indonesia. There are other “Trans” bus systems operating in or planned for 7 other Indonesian cities]

“After adopting the BRT system, Istanbul, for instance, has seen a 30 per cent reduction in traffic congestion and subsequently an improved traffic system,” he said.

TRANSIT Says:

Now as you know, TRANSIT has had a lot to say about making the tough choices and redesigning our road space for greater movement of people, rather than just cars. We do not believe that bus lanes are a waste, but do believe that there is room and need for improvement.

We do not believe that bus lanes (especially bus rapid transit) cause congestion. If anything, physically-separate bus lanes can reduce congestion by allowing buses and other traffic to move more smoothly without interactions between these different traffic forms – interactions that cause congestion.

To make the BRT effective we need:

  • To consider losing a few expressways – or at least, making sure that these expressways make space for public transport;
  • To design bus rapid transit that is accessible – because these services will lack the infrastructure of LRT and MRT stations (not much parking, feeder bus drop off, etc) they will have to be within walking distance of the majority of their users;
  • To educate the public that bus lanes and Bus Rapid Transit do not cause congestion – indeed, this will be one of the toughest challenges for SPAD to face;
  • To be willing to take necessary steps to reduce traffic volumes in our cities – including the use of transit malls and congestion charges.
  • To understand that half-measures will get us nowhere. The huge advantage of Bus Rapid Transit is that it can be implemented quickly – meaning that we can develop a vast rapid transit network without the capital costs of MRT or LRT – but it will only work if we have the network, not a few isolated services (much like hour our isolated bus lanes do not work) effectively;
  • To include and accommodate existing stage bus operators – they can provide line-haul services on the Bus Rapid Transit or feeder services from the suburban areas to the terminal stations – with high quality standards and enforcement, of course.

If implemented, Bus Rapid Transit will change the face of public transport in Kuala Lumpur – and indeed in Malaysia. But it will not work by itself. The Bus Rapid Transit have to be a part of multiple projects to reduce the impact of single operator vehicles on our urban roads.

For fun, we conclude with these two interesting posts by Jarrett Walker of the blog Human Transit:

Bus rapid transit in india: an upbeat view (25 May 2010) talks about the challenges and opportunities of implementing Bus Rapid Transit in a number of cities in India.

Bus rapid transit: some questions to ask (26 November 2009) suggests that people ask specific questions about Bus Rapid Transit (for the purpose of gathering information) rather than passing judgement. The questions that Jarrett raises are:

System-related questions

  1. Are we talking about exclusive right of way? [TRANSIT: meaning that the buses would be fully separated from other traffic by kerbs/medians – considering our issues with bus lanes, we certainly need the kerbs];
  2. Is it a fully separated busway (like Brisbane/Ottawa?) [TRANSIT: One option for Bus Rapid Transit is a fully separated (or “Grade separated”) busway would run on its own exclusive road and could also run above or underground.]
  3. Are there exceptions to the stated degree of exclusivity and separation? If so, where, and why? [TRANSIT: These questions are important because the more we mess with the completeness of the network, the more problems we will have. Also, we have to consider existing bottlenecks which would disrupt the flow achieved by the bus-rapid transit system.]
  4. Is it “open” or “closed”? [TRANSIT: An “open” BRT system would allow other buses to enter and exit the system at various points – allowing a variety of services (fast one-seat trips from suburbs to town and back, along with frequent service along the corridor) – but with some disadvantages. A “closed” system is much like a LRT or MRT but using buses – no other vehicles can enter the system, there are “stations” and “ticketing systems” – we do not know the details yet but there would be an expectation of a mostly-closed system. We do know that there is already a plan to “close” the system to other operators.]
  5. Will they use existing stops or cut out certain stops? [TRANSIT: This question is specific to our situation in KL, where the BRT corridors would likely be implemented on existing public transport corridors & routes. More stops = slower service. Fewer stops = faster service but less convenience.]

Other Questions

  1. What about greenhouse gas emissions?
  2. What about localized emissions? [TRANSIT: Both in the urban areas and the bus depots]
  3. What is the overall level of design and amenity?
  4. How much money have we saved against the rail option, and how much more service will that buy?

We are going to be sending our own versions of the questions above to SPAD – it will be interesting to see what their response will be.

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23 thoughts on “Bus-Rapid Transit is coming to KL-town (Update #1)”

  1. Sounds like a good plan.

    But I’ve always wondered, what happens when a bus breaks down in the lane? After all, there’s no room to overtake because of the kerb.

    And considering the fact that it’ll be Rapid running the route, and the fact that they have a numerous “diverse” fleet of buses…

    As a friend of mine put it, the members of the procurement department in charge of assembling that truly diverse fleet must have had a truly “enjoyable” experience indeed.

    Viva Malaysia, Wawasan 2020 eh what?

    1. Hi @yaz

      The same thing would happen as it does when the LRT is broken down or service is disrupted – there is a backup and people have to wait until the backup is cleared.

      It is an issue with any kind of single-right-of-way design. One solution might be to have a double right of way, like the Transit Mall proposed in Minneapolis (USA). There it was found that doubling the number of lanes for the buses increased the level of service by a factor of 3.

      Picture something like this in KL:

      Transit Mall in Minneapolis has two contra-flow lanes for buses.

      Can you see this on Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman / Jalan Raja Laut?

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

  2. I wonder if it is possible to have a driverless BRT technology since few men is interested to be bus drivers theses days.

    Anyway, in Malaysia, it boils down to the third-world mentality of Malaysian motorists. We know that they are a selfish lot, not willing to give way.

    The Govt must do all these:
    1) Install barricaded bus lanes.
    2) Buses to run opposite direction to traffic.
    3) Nab motorists who enter the lanes on the spot. Sent them to jail give public flogging.

  3. Many KL streets/roads are so narrow, by doing so they have to make sure traffic jam won’t get worse especially during the peak hours. Or else Kuala Lumpur traffic jam will definitely reached Bangkok’s “standard”. 😦

  4. @Moaz

    I think that would be pretty awesome really. I’m all for an improved public transport system (since I try to avoid driving as much as I can). Off the top of my head though, I’m wondering how many roads in KL can support a double right of way less a single one.

    Thinking about city roads (such as in front of Kata Raya) where bus lanes exist and the lane barely fits a bus as is, with two other lanes for cars. Throw in a kerb to block off the bus lane and well…

    1. Hi @Yaz

      The narrowness of KL streets is a definite concern – but something tells me that the separated and exclusive BRT corridors will be limited to service from the suburban areas to the outskirts of KL’s town areas – using the wider expressway and “main road” corridors – with very little on-street running. What we see in KL will probably be extensions of these corridors into KL – just as the buses traveling along Jalan Ipoh stop at Titiwangsa or Ampang Park (outer gateways) then continue on to Chow Kit & KLCC (final terminals & drop-off points).

      We might also see the return of single-lane contra-flow for buses and an expansion of the RapidKL City shuttle to provide those cross-city connections.

      We’ll be keep this page updated as we find out more info.

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

  5. And if you don’t have a kerb, well look at bus lanes as it is now. The one that I always pass by is the stretch on Federal Highway (heading towards PJ) a couple of hundred meters from Mid Valley. Plant a camera there and you’d make handing out summonses by the score.

    One thing that might work for the bus-rapid transit system (without a kerb) is IF the Automated Enforcement System (AES) actually works. Automatic summonses to those who flout the law, without fear or favour and yes the lanes would probably work as planned.

    Of course I’m still waiting with bated breath for the AES to actually start. After all the parliamentary acts had been amended to allow it, till today I’ve heard nothing but silence since.

  6. One BRT operator. What happens to other bus operators? Are they allowed to use the dedicated lanes? I hope so.

    Assuming this is merely intercity service, I hope they also improve circulation within the city. Feeder services, monorail, whatever they can. Even covered walkways for the many pedestrians in the city center.

    Btw why didn’t we propose this before proposing the mrt? This is cheaper more flexible faster to implement and not necessarily lower capacity.

    1. Hi @Thars

      Many good questions and many will have to be answered. We will try to get more info as it is made available.

      Why wasn’t BRT proposed before MRT? That’s probably a question that the government can answer best. The main thing is, as long as the network is vast, meets the criteria for “rapid transit”, is inclusive and reaches more public transport users – the actual mode really should depend on economics & costs.

      Many people (including TRANSIT) have already recommended the implementation of Bus Rapid Transit on existing major roadways and highways, as well as a complete bus lanes network – not to mention a full revamp of public transport in the Klang Valley in particular and Malaysia in general.

      It remains to be seen how and when these proposals will make their way into the light.

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

    1. @Fik

      Good point – but we really have to ask what the root causes of the existing terrible frequencies actually are. Is it congestion, slow bus movements, too much time waiting at stops, too many bottlenecks, etc., etc?

      Knowing those factors would allow us to tailor a solution to our existing problems – one that would include BRT as well as improved bus services and road & development planning.

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

  7. good. just do it. i hope those who still condemn about buslane project is not the same person who said that BRT is better than MRT.

    if the Busway really makes public road jam from bad to worst. let it be. i think that will force them to switch from using private to public transport. what a selfish person.

    1. @Epul

      Yes, let’s hope we don’t see that kind of flip-flopping of arguments.

      BRT has its advantages and if implemented properly will move thousands more people around KL and the Klang Valley.

      Regars, Moaz for TRANSIT

  8. my 2 cents on this,
    1) mere implementation of BRT may not reduce traffic jam. in fact it may actually cause jam to worsen. e.g. if a road earlier has 3 lanes, and now has 1 barrier erected to make it 2 lanes, if there is the same number of vehicles travelling, the jam would not be alleviated
    2) it may not be totally a bad thing. to see that cars are stuck in a jam, but buses are moving smoothly, may give the impetus to switch to buses
    3) frequency of bus would need to increase for ppl to want to take buses
    4) the routes for BRT would need to be well planned out and communicated in advance to the public. may i suggest that the destination needs to be somewhere that is of high traffic + to be the end of the journey, such as such as office hubs / shopping complex / universities
    5) mere BRT would not reduce cars on the road. congestion pricing would. but this is unlikely to happen anytime soon as the increase of petrol price is already unpopular with the public, and if the BN govt does ram this through, they are handing the next election to PKR. if PKR rams this through, they would hand the next election to BN. democracy is a bitch sometimes. what can be done is to increase the price of parking. that may work as parking lots are handled by private operators and nothing would please them better by nudging them to price space to market price

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