Bus Rapid Transit project to start in 2Q2015

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SURUHANJAYA PENGANGKUTAN AWAM DARAT (SPAD), or the Land Public Transport Commission, is currently ironing out the details of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project.

SPAD CEO Mohd Nur Ismal Mohamed Kamal says the pre-engineering design of the BRT project has been completed and the construction works are expected to start in the second quarter of next year.

However, SPAD has not finalised the operational model of the BRT, which is aimed at easing traffic congestion along the Federal Highway.

“We are looking at the commercial aspects right now, whether it will be on a concession basis, and if so, who will be the owner of the concession,” Nur Ismal tells The Edge.

According to him, SPAD is also mulling the model, under which the bus operators will be consolidated into a consortium and jointly run the operations, à la the BRT in Bogota, Colombia.

“What is important is to have someone manage the services because the system needs to be maintained so that there is good traffic flow and road safety is ensured,” says Nur Ismal.

He declines to reveal the project cost, saying it would not be as big as the RM30 billion required for the Mass Rapid Transit project.

The proposed BRT project will see the building of special lanes for buses that ply the “Central Market (Pasar Seni) to Klang town” route. It will stretch 36km along the Federal Highway. Construction is expected to take 21/2 years, explains Nur Ismal.

The BRT project involves minimal land acquisition as it will mostly be widening parts of the Federal Highway and constructing a short elevated stretch.

 “We are working on a total [public] bus transformation initiative. So, this is going to be an exciting project,” says Nur Ismal.

 Phase 1 comprises the stretch from Batu Tiga, Shah Alam to Central Market in Kuala Lumpur. “The targeted travel time is 20 minutes,” he explains.

 According to him, the BRT project will fall under the supervision of the Ministry of Works. SPAD’s job is to look into the design and build contract, adds Nur Ismal.

 Noting that the BRT lanes are dedicated to buses only, gantries will be built to keep private vehicles out. “The beauty of it is that while we will have specialised services under BRT, we also allow other buses to use the lanes,” says Nur Ismal.

 He adds: “Hopefully, by 2020, the [transportation] landscape will be totally different, as compared to now, where the default choice is to use your own car or motorcycle.”

 Besides the BRT project, SPAD will also be revamping the revenue collection model of public buses and adopting the new gross cost model. He says the existing model reflects a “vicious cycle” of lower ridership and service cuts.

SPAD has secured approval to change the “whole scheme”, he says. “Currently, bus operators apply for a route, which we approve, and then they collect the fare. The risk of ridership is entirely on them.”

“So, when people use more private vehicles or dislike taking buses, there will be less ridership. This leads to bus operators cutting their services and when they do that, fewer people will take buses.

“It is a downward spiral,” he laments.

Nur Ismal says SPAD has been engaging with bus operators on the gross cost model, under which the operator is paid a specified sum to provide a specified service in a given period, is a much more efficient scheme. The cherry on the cake is that SPAD gets all the fare collected. “We take the revenue risk. Their [bus operators’] revenue is what we pay them.”

 Nur Ismal says bus operators will have to abide by the service level agreements and they will be paid per kilometre run.

Will SPAD acquire the bus operators that operate in the suburbs? Nur Ismal says, “No, they will be operated by individual owners, but we will have the say on how they will operate, based on the new model, because their revenue depends on us.”

 He says new laws need not be enacted to implement the new model, but adds that the current regulations will be tweaked.

Under the Greater Kuala Lumpur/Klang Valley National Key Economic Area of the Economic Transformation Programme, the government has targeted for public transport usage to increase from 18% in 2009 to 40% by 2020.

“Even with 40% ridership of public transport, the traffic congestion is still going to be bad,” says Nur Ismal, noting the strong increase in private-vehicle usage.

 “If we don’t improve our public transport, traffic congestion similar to Jakarta’s will be a reality here,” he warns.

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on September 22-28, 2014.