Easing traffic jams with elevated dedicated bus lanes

  • Business
  • Monday, 15 Jun 2015

Free ride: A file picture shows passengers at the BRT Sunway station. The bus rides are free between June 1 and July 31. Public transportation is the best way forward but a system that is dependable, accessible and efficient must be created, otherwise commuters will ditch the trains and buses for their cars and the city will grind to a halt.

The BRT will alleviate the infamous KL traffic jams and improve transit experience for commuters

IN an effort to encourage the people to use public transportation, commuters can be persuaded to consider the train. Getting on the bus is a different matter altogether.

Many see it as a harrowing experience of an interminable wait whether it is for the bus to arrive or the stress of sitting in traffic. But all that may soon change.

Last month, the Prime Minister launched the Bus Rapid Transit Sunway (BRT Sunway) service, a public transportation partnership that sets the model of how the Government can successfully collaborate with the private sector. Prasarana bore 85% of the RM661milcost for the elevated BRT Sunway while Sunway Bhd funded the rest.

What makes the BRT unique is that the buses travel on dedicated lanes – they do not have to jostle with the hundreds of vehicles crowding the highways.

Passengers go to a station, pay the fares and board through doors as one would a train. Because there is no traffic to contend with, buses arrive on-the-dot, enabling passengers to get to their destination efficiently and on time.

Plying a 5.4km elevated route with seven stations covering a 500,000 population radius, high-tech electric buses connect Sunway residents to the light rail transit (LRT) and KTM Komuter terminals without fuss.

With a Park and Ride facility for 1,153 cars in the main BRT terminal, including special bays for women and the disabled, the stations are equipped with escalators, lifts, kiosks and a passenger information system.

The BRT is widely deployed in tight urban sprawls around the world. Cities such as Bogota in Columbia, Guangzhou and even Jakarta use it for mass transit.

As proof of its popularity, more than 163 cities in the world run BRT systems, with 82 planning or building infrastructure towards this end.

The BRT makes as much sense in city planning as do trains. In densely overpopulated locations, constructing tracks and stations above ground and underground involve untold complications, and are a public bane.

On top of this, rails are expensive, especially when you compare the costs with the BRT because of the infrastructure and technicalities involved.

That said, factors such as demand, distance topography, engineering considerations and cost come into play when deciding the best mode. In the case of the Klang Valley, BRT is deemed effective to deliver passengers to larger capacity transport systems like the LRT, mass rapid transit (MRT) and metro rails.

The BRT Sunway connects the missing link between two rail lines – KTM Komuter and Kelana Jaya Line LRT extension and serves as part of a master plan for the creation of an integrated network of public transportation in Greater KL.

What I mean by “integrated” is where the MRT, BRT and the high speed rail link up with existing systems such as the KTM Komuter, LRT and buses to expand reach and connectivity. To make public transportation enticing, emphasis must be given to improving first and last mile connections, park and ride facilities and a single card payment system.

In a populous area like Sunway, the BRT fits snugly to address congestion. Because of overcrowding and the lay of buildings and infrastructure, it was very difficult to get an LRT alignment into Sunway. The BRT emerged as a strong option to bypass the congestion.

The Government also plans to construct a 34km Kuala Lumpur-Klang BRT along the Federal Highway by 2016. We are studying the viability of introducing BRTs in 10 other densely populated areas within Klang Valley. I understand that Iskandar Malaysia in Johor is planning its own BRT too.

BRT Sunway rides are free between June 1 and July 31, after which a fare would be imposed. In deciding on the fare, the Government is studying the best mechanism not only to ensure fairness to passengers but that the pricing mechanism is sustainable.

Dynamic pricing

I believe dynamic pricing with a ceiling fee would be a good way forward. Under this format, fares are adjusted based on customer demand for each trip; taking into account weekday and weekend demand, public holidays and seasonality patterns. Pretty much how an airline would price its flight tickets.

Based on current simulation, it is estimated that Prasarana can potentially reduce Government subsidy for public transportation from RM18 mil to RM15 mil a year if dynamic pricing is implemented.

As population rises to 10 million in Greater KL by 2020, we will increasingly face paralysing issues of congestion and pollution affecting mobility, productivity and quality of life.

Public transportation is the best way forward but we must create a system that is dependable, accessible and efficient, otherwise commuters will ditch the trains and buses for their cars and the city will grind to a halt.

The wheels are in motion for improved commuting experiences in our capital with various projects such as the MRT Line 1 (63% completed), MRT Line 2 (tendering by October 2015), LRT Ampang Line (target completion by March 2016) and LRT extension from Bandar Utama to Klang (construction to start in 2016).

The launch of the BRT, I am confident, heralds only good things to alleviate the infamous KL traffic jams and will provide a vastly improved transit experience for passengers. Please go and try it.

Datuk Seri Idris Jala is CEO of Pemandu, the Performance Management and Delivery Unit, and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department. Fair and reasonable comments are most welcome at idrisjala@pemandu.gov.my

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