Updated with additional articles!
TRANSIT took note of this interesting and disappointing news about the Brickfields – Jalan Tun Sambanthan bus lane, shut down by the government beginning February 6th, after only 2 months in operation.
The big question from TRANSIT is WHY? What are the reasons why the government chose to back down on the plan for the bus lane, and is this a reflection of a government that listens to public protests, or just poor planning, bad policy, or a weak government?
And more importantly, this really raises questions about strength of the government’s commitment to improving public transport – especially in light of the fact that bus lanes in KL are simply not working right now.
So what are we going to do?
- Contra-flow bus lanes to be scrapped (NST, 4 February 2012);
- Contra-flow bus lane aborted in less than three months (The Star, 7 February 2012);
Brickfields bus lane abandoned after two months (The Star)
Thursday February 2, 2012
By PRIYA MENON
THE indecisive nature of the authorities about the traffic situation in Brickfields have once again caused unhappiness among residents there.
Federal Territories and Urban Wellbeing Minister Datuk Raja Nong Chik Raja Zainal Abidin announced on Tuesday that the contra-flow bus and taxi lane would now be aborted and buses would once again ply Jalan Sultan Abdul Samad.
[TRANSIT: The obvious big problem with forcing outbound buses to make the go-around trip through Jalan Sultan Abdul Samad is that it will add more time to the already typically slow bus trip. Are we the only ones to see this?]
He announced the decision after launching the Eliminate Beggars Campaign that was held at KL Sentral.
The contra-flow bus lane began on Dec 3 last year after much debate and protest.
The system was supposed to be on trial for three months and barely two months into operation, it has been aborted.
[TRANSIT: With no real reason why!]
However, the news received mixed reactions from various stakeholders in the area.
Malaysian Association for the Blind (MAB) deputy executive director Godfrey Ooi said the Government should have come up with a comprehensive plan for traffic after consulting people with different needs before making any decisions.
“Some are happy with the decision to move the buses to the main road for safety reasons, while others say businesses in Jalan Tun Sambanthan are affected by the contra-flow,” he added.
Ooi said the money spent to build the bus stops and taxi stands along Jalan Tun Sambanthan for the contra-flow could have been put to better use.
[TRANSIT: Like what? Building more parking to encourage more people to drive into KL?]
Tamil Methodist Church Pastor Justin Clarance said instead of switching from one decision to another, the authorities could look into the lack of enforcement at Little India in Brickfields when it came to traffic.
“There is a serious problem with the contra-flow bus lane but moving the buses to Jalan Sultan Abdul Samad is not going to help because of the congestion in front of Little India,” said Clarance.
[TRANSIT: The problem is not just with the bus lane, but with people who double park anywhere they like, and a government that just does not want to enforce its own laws.]
He added that the backlog would stretch all the way to Jalan Sultan Abdul Samad and the only way to stop it would be better enforcement, like how it was done at KL Sentral.
Brickfields Rukun Tetangga chairman S.K.K Naidu said the contra-flow bus lane was a trial and it failed.
However, he said that Nong Chik had earlier promised residents of Jalan Sultan Abdul Samad that their traffic woes would be solved.
“If City Hall cannot solve our traffic woes, they must at least look at hiring traffic consultants to find a better solution,” he added.
[TRANSIT: But the government has to be consistent when it comes to implementing a plan – and of course that plan must go beyond the typical ad hoc solution.]
Meanwhile, stakeholder S. Paranjothy said they welcomed the decision since the business community suffered losses after the contra-flow bus lane was implemented.
[TRANSIT: Did anyone in the Federal Territories Ministry ask to see their books to ustify these claims of losses?]
He said the additional parking bays that were set up behind the row of shops along Little India Brickfields did little to help the people or ease congestion.
“After removing the bays in front of the shops for the bus lane, they decided to add more behind the outlets but many were sealed off by shop owners for their own use,” he said.
[TRANSIT: So why should the bus lane be shut down and public transport users be affected if the shop owners themselves cannot follow the plan?]
Brickfields Business Community Society (BBCS) secretary A. Karuppiah also echoed Paranjothy’s sentiments.
He added that they had recently forwarded a memorandum to the Prime Minister’s department citing the need to revert to the one-way system.
“There were at least a few accidents every week in front of the SMK Vivekananda and parents were finding it increasingly difficult to move around. There was also more congestion around the Little India area,” said Karuppiah.
[TRANSIT: Why are the ‘accidents’ happening? What research has been done into the causes? Is the problem because of careless bus drivers, or careless car drivers, or careless pedestrians? Again, why shut down the bus lane when it is not clear that the bus lane is the source of the problems?]
When asked about the facilities built for the contra-flow bus lane, Karuppiah said he hoped that the bus stops and taxi stands would not go to waste.
He suggested that the amenities to be coverted to newspaper stands or small stalls to ensure that the public funds are well utilised.
“We really hope that no change will be made after this as it will be a waste of money. They should engage a proper planning unit to take everything into consideration before deciding on anything,” he added.
We understand that there are problems with transportation planning and public consultation in Malaysia. We also understand that the public has, for a long time, become used to easy parking, congestion, and a lack of enforcement of rules. Not to mention, we understand the power of a public protest in Malaysia, especially if it includes or is “on behalf of” an identifiably disadvantaged group.
But frankly, we at TRANSIT are getting tired of inconsistent government efforts to improve the most basic public transport services – our buses, while spending billions of RM on railway projects and infrastructure.
We do not understand why the government cannot effectively develop a consistent plan for Brickfields that improves public transport and facilitates the movement of buses – in other words, a way to make basic public transport effective, reliable and efficient.
We cannot deny the reality that Brickfields is a major transport corridor for buses because buses can pick up larger numbers of passengers along Jalan Tun Sambanthan. It is also a major interchange point for public transport, with the KL Monorail, KL Sentral, and airport buses all nearby. The presence of public transport in Brickfields is not going to be lessened any time soon.
We also have to accept that under the current circumstances, as long as buses are going to go into and out of Kota Raya, to and from the south side of the Klang Valley (places like Petaling Jaya, Puchong, and Bangsar), they are going to pass through Brickfields because that is where the customers are.
So what are the solutions for the problems of Brickfields? And how are we going to take steps to implement these solutions – because with the opening of NU Sentral, if nothing is going to be done, congestion is only going to get worse.
The first thing we are going to have to do is make a choice – are we going to use our roads for on-street, storefront parking (and double parking) or the movement of vehicles? We have to decide what is the most important for the future of the Klang Valley, so that we can make life more livable.
The second thing we are going to have to do is make a consistent & clear plan for the Klang Valley that has the goals of improving the quality and reliability of public transport, encouraging people to use public transport service.
Finally, we have to have an organization, either a Local Public Transport Organizing Authority or Public Transport Council, that will work to improve both public transport and private transport. Because the fact is, as long as we are not taking steps to improve both public and private transport, we will continue to face congestion problems.
For a long time, TRANSIT has been talking about a plan to improve bus services by diverting a majority of bus trips between Kota Raya and the southern areas of the Klang Valley to Jalan Syed Putra. This would reduce the number of buses traveling through Jalan Tun Sambanthan, with services perhaps limited to bus trips serving Bangsar, Brickfields, Seputeh and Taman OUG.
Diverting buses to Jalan Syed Putra would provide direct and fast links for buses to access the Federal Highway (heading west), Jalan Klang Lama and Jalan Puchong (heading south and west), and Jalan Istana (heading east).
But in order to make this diversion of bus services work, we need two things:
First, we have to improve access From Jalan Syed Putra to Pasaramakota and the Pasar Seni LRT station. Right now buses that are bound for Pasaramakota and Pasara Seni LRT station must drive through the Jalan Kinabalu Roundabout and KL Chinatown (Petaling St., Jalan Sultan, and Jalan Sultan Mohamed).
What TRANSIT wants to see is that the north end of the Jalan Kinabalu roundabout be opened up to allow buses to directly access Pasaramakota and Pasar Seni LRT station so they can avoid the congestion at the Jalan Kinabalu roundabout and in KL Chinatown – congestion that will only increase with the construction of the MRT tunnel under Jalan Sultan.
Second, the government must upgrade the bus lanes along Jalan Syed Putra and convert the bus services into a Bus Rapid Transit system with 3 corridors:
- Jalan Syed Putra – Federal Highway, to link to Petaling Jaya, Subang Jaya, Shah Alam & Klang
- Jalan Syed Putra – Jalan Klang Lama / Jalan Puchong to link to Sunway, Subang Jaya & Puchong
- Jalan Syed Putra – Jalan Istana to link to Sg. Besi and Bandar Tasik Selatan
In order to make this happen, the bus lanes will have to be moved to the median (centre) of Jalan Syed Putra, Jalan Istana, Jalan Klang Lama, Jalan Puchong, and the Federal Highway.
To make the bus lanes into a true Bus Rapid Transit system, the lanes would also have to be isolated from the regular traffic by physical separation – kerbs or fences.
We will also need to see new types of bus stations (rather than bus stands), and new infrastructure (like elevated bus-only ramps & roundabouts) to speed up bus service and make it truly “rapid” for the first time.
With the plan for Bus Rapid Transit service in the Klang Valley, as part of SPAD’s Klang Valley public transport masterplan, as well as the existing RapidBET service and future RapidBRT service (akan datang, coming soon!) already coming into being, we will need to see these plans made clear to the public soon.
But more importantly, we need the discussion to be public and effective. We do not want to have another situation where the government backs down on public transport plans because of a few public protests.
As always, TRANSIT wants your feedback about planning for public transport in the Klang Valley.