Efficient public bus network critical to connect nation

PHASE 1 of the MRT 2 (Sungai Buloh–Serdang–Putrajaya/SSP Line) is now complete and has started operations yesterday, whereas Phase 2 (Kampung Batu-Putrajaya) is expected start operations in January 2023.

MRT 3 has yet to commence works.

There would be an “outer” ring rail link or “loop” line for Kuala Lumpur by next year, which intersects with the Sungai Buloh-Kajang Line (MRT 1) and MRT 2. This provides greater connectivity to commuters and travellers in the capital city and Greater Kuala Lumpur.

But emphasis on public transport infrastructure should move from rail to bus.

Improved connectivity all around Malaysia – not just Greater Kuala Lumpur/Klang Valley – should be the main focus of upcoming public transport projects.

Buses do not have limitations. It is us who place limitations on the bus network.

Rail has intrinsic constraints, such as its inability to access remote destinations and service every populated area. This is due to the grid system that prevents/pre-empts network density and accessibility on a cost-effective basis.

Closely related to this is agility and flexibility in terms of pick-up and drop-off points, which makes the bus network superior to rail, especially when it comes to first-mile, last-mile connectivity.

We need a paradigm shift; one in which the rail and bus networks are differentiated only by the type of operation – i.e. road and track, respectively – and availability.

We need to elevate and upgrade the image of the bus network to be on a par with rail. We need to go further than just integrating the journey routes of the bus network with rail via feeder buses.

We also need to rethink a bus rapid transit (BRT) system, in which buses deployed along “primary routes” could integrate with those along “secondary routes” for first-mile, last-mile connectivity. Primary route buses would serve as feeder buses and seamless “integrators” for secondary route buses.

In an Emir Research article titled An efficient bus network – critical in breaking the traffic gridlock (June 10, 2022), it is suggested that the previously cancelled Greater Kuala Lumpur/Klang Valley Bus Transformation Plan (BTP) be revitalised and revamped according to recent public transport developments.

Based on the BTP model, it is envisaged and envisioned that there should be a “central spine” – the Federal Highway – for intercity commuting. There should also be dedicated bus lanes on both sides.

There is also a need for dedicated lanes for the secondary routes (though not possible for all roads).

Emir Research would like to recommend policy measures to improve the bus network in Malaysia.

Upgrade bus stops, construct more terminals, etc.

Firstly, there is a need to upgrade the bus network to be on a par with rail.

We need to ensure all bus stops in city centres nationwide are upgraded into mini-terminals, which are accessible via automatic sliding doors and glass-covered to provide comfort and protection. These mini-terminals must also have their own hotspots for Wi-Fi connectivity.

There should be electronic boards containing the schedule, routes and bus numbers alongside real-time information of journey time and estimated time of arrival inside the terminals.

RapidKL should have a single app that enables quick access to routes and other info contained on the boards as well as registration for travel passes.

Selected mini-terminals could only be accessible via QR code or placing a smart card (e.g. MyKad) on the reader.

We need to ensure there is one in every prime and strategic location in the capital city and Greater Kuala Lumpur.

There should also be one at every interval along the “central spine” of the BRT system.

Replicating the BRT system

Secondly, the Sunway BRT system needs to be replicated at selected inner-city areas of Greater Kuala Lumpur and beyond, and for seamless intercity connectivity in complementing and supplementing the “central spine”.

The 5.4km system that circles the Bandar Sunway area costs about RM634 million.

The TransMilenio BRT system cost approximately US$1.76 billion (RM7.1 billion) for a 114.4km integrated bus network that spans across the whole city.

The MRT3 budget, which is RM31 billion, could have been used to build four BRT systems with the same quality as the TransMilenio BRT system.

Or 43 BRT systems spanning 232km if we use the Sunway BRT system as reference.

A BRT does not have to be elevated and the execution should be adjusted and/or modified according to spatial context.

Ideally, an integrated BRT system should have a mixture of elevated paths and dedicated bus lanes on existing roads, including the construction of median corridors/pathways.

Where bus lanes are unsuitable, elevated pathways could be constructed.

Rapid transit commuting and travel should shift to the BRT system when the entire MRT system is in place.

The bus network should be able to transition to become the central spine of public transportation itself – in tandem with the introduction and streamlining of eco-friendly initiatives. This in line with our aim to be a carbon-neutral nation by 2050.

Having an integrated bus network is key to a highly accessible and connected public transportation service for urban Malaysia. – June 17, 2022.

* Jason Loh and Rosihan Addin are part of the research team of Emir Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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