After almost a year, Malaysia’s first ever Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) fleet of buses looks barely used.
Launched in June last year, the service was to benefit 500,000 people in Bandar Sunway and USJ Subang Jaya.
However, the seven-station line sees only few passengers using the service.
An observation by StarMetro found five out of seven platforms without any passengers and the WiFi-equipped buses empty between 10am and 2pm.
The line’s only park-and-ride facility, a four-storey carpark, is located at SunU-Monash station.
With 1,153 parking bays including 23 bays for the disabled and 121 lots for motorcycles, the carpark was only half full at noon.
However, many cars were double parked outside the parking complex resulting in severe traffic congestion on Jalan PJS 11/7, especially during peak hours.
Parking at the carpark cost RM3 for the first three hours, RM1 for every subsequent hour and a maximum payment of RM5 for the whole day.
The parking lot also connects to the BRT station and to a 1km-long canopy walkway that links Monash University campus to Sunway Pyramid.
The writer hopped onto a bus at the SunU-Monash station and the route included stops at the SunMed, Sunway Lagoon and Mentari stations.
The bus then ended its trip at Sunway-Setia Jaya station which is near the Setia Jaya KTM station.
The fare for this trip from SunU-Monash to Sunway-Setia Jaya was RM3.40.
Only a few KTM passengers, not more than nine people, boarded the bus.
As the bus made a return trip to the end of the line at USJ 7 station, five students alighted at the Sunway Lagoon and SunU-Monash stations.
The fare from Sunway-Setia Jaya to the USJ 7 station was RM5.40.
Along the way, the bus emptied at SunU-Monash and remained empty except for the writer onboard until the USJ 7 station.
Upon disembarking at the station, the writer purchased a ticket to return to the SunU-Monash station.
However, the bus driver did not notice the writer waving at him to open the bus doors.
The driver later apologised and in a brief conversation, the driver, who wanted to be known as Pak Ahmad, said there were not many passengers in the day except during peak hours, from 8am to 9am and 5pm to 6pm.
“When the service first started, there were many regular passengers especially from the PPR flats nearby the Setia Jaya KTM station.
“But after a while, they told me they cannot afford the ride because they have to buy tickets for themselves and their children, which comes up to RM20.
Considering that Bandar Sunway is highly populated with students, parking and riding the BRT can be more expensive than driving and parking in Sunway Pyramid.
The line, which operates 18 hours a day, is serviced by 15 electric buses with a frequency of five minutes.
The buses, which can fit 67 passengers, are clean, air-conditioned and well maintained. The stations are also brightly lit at night.
Monash University student Fiona Gan, 21, said the parking facility was a blessing but finds the bus service expensive.
“Sunway Pyramid is only a 15-minute walk away via the Canopy Walk” said Gan adding that she would rather walk than take the bus.
Music educator Kok Wai Leong, 26, said he had initially used the service to get to Kuala Lumpur.
However, he stopped using the BRT when the fare was introduced.
“A trip from KL Sentral to Gombak costs only RM4.20 on the LRT, which should have a higher operational cost than BRT not to mention travelling a much further distance.
“The BRT line runs 5.4km from one end to the other, and the fare for that is RM5.40,” he said.
IT support executive Thanushaan Yogasingam, 25 who commutes from SunU-Monash station to Sunway Lagoon station said the price difference between station-to-station, was costly.
“The price difference should only be 20 to 50 sen from one station to another. The price difference now is close to RM1.
“In a day, I sometimes spend more than RM5 just to travel to three stops, back and forth.
“The intervals between rides are quick and it’s very efficient, but I feel it is overpriced,” he said.
Public Transport Users Association president Ajit Johl said the BRT must be inclusive and not seem like an exclusive transport for Bandar Sunway folk.
“In Malaysia, a majority of people who use public transport tend to be from the lower income group.
“The BRT service should not be more expensive than the average bus ride, especially considering its infrastructure has already been paid for.
“For BRT to be successful, there also has to be active government policies to reduce car consumption, but this has yet to happen.
“Our association has repeatedly called for an annual tariff review committee to be set up.
“Users should be consulted and the cost structure should be transparent so we understand the basis for the high fare prices,” he said.
Costing RM634mil, the BRT-Sunway line was 70% funded by Prasarana, 15% by Sunway Bhd and 15% by the Government’s public-private partnership facilitation fund called UKAS.
Earlier this month, Sunway Group founder and chairman Tan Sri Jeffrey Cheah said 13,000 people rode the BRT when it was free during its initial months in June and July last year.
However, the number declined to 4,000 when the fare was introduced.
Cheah is of the opinion that the fare hike should be gradual.
“Get people to ride it at RM2, then slowly increase the fare,” he said during the Star Media Group’s Power Talks: Business Series at Sunway University.
In June, the USJ 7 BRT station will be connected to the Light Rail Transit (LRT) network.