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Consultant: Buses cannot replace MRT; TRANSIT: MRT cannot replace buses (Update #1)

TRANSIT took note of the recent comments from ERE Consulting Group which appeared to rubbish TRANSIT’s comments favouring Bus Rapid Transit and Expressway Rapid Transit over investment in the MRT network.

It was argued that Bus Rapid Transit would not have the capacity to match MRT and the existing road networks were already constrained with no room for expansion and therefore, Bus Rapid Transit could only been seen as an “intermediate” solution for the Klang Valley.

Actually, we do not mind that idea – an intermediate solution is great to have when:

  • it costs a fraction of MRT (is MRT the ‘final solution’ then?);
  • it can be implemented far faster than MRT;
  • it will provide more km of rapid transit and reach more areas;
  • it will optimize the use of our roads & highways which are currently congested, poorly planned and inefficient;
  • it will make bus transit more reliable and frequent – tackling the major grouse that commuters have about the biggest weakness of our current public transport;
  • perhaps most importantly, when you are starting at zero and you don’t even have a plan, an “intermediate” rapid transit system might be the wiser choice to make!

But then, that’s only our humble opinion. More information and comments after the jump!

Buses cannot replace MRT, says EIA report (The Malaysian Insider)
By Clara Chooi
February 22, 2011

an image of an MRT train from somewhere in Taiwan.

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 22 — An alternate bus system cannot replace the proposed Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) as it is likely to fail the desired passenger ferrying rate, according to the MRT’s key report.

The advocated Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is seen to struggle to reach 30,000 passengers per hour in any direction as analysed by the controversial project’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report.

ERE Consultancy Group said in its EIA report that the bus solution would require 90-passenger vehicles to run uninterrupted nearly every 10 seconds — to match the MRT’s 30,000 passengers per hour per direction (PPHPD).

[TRANSIT: They miss the point. BRT is not attempting to match the passenger carrying capacity of MRT on a single corridor. BRT is attempting to offer decent passenger carrying capacity on multiple corridors.]

“The BRT proposals are not however long term solutions which can realistically offer sufficient capacity and level of service to deliver the expected demand levels and meet modal shift target,” the firm reported in Section 4 of its detailed EIA.

[TRANSIT: Has anyone commented on whether those targets are actually realistic?]

The EIA was prepared for the government’s multibillion ringgit proposed MRT project, which is touted as the most expensive construction project ever undertaken in Malaysia with initial estimates totalling over RM36 billion.

In the new rail system, the government aims to achieve a transport mode ratio between public and private transport of 40:60 from 18:82 due to an estimated increase from the present eight million trips made each day in the Kuala Lumpur metropolitan area to 10 million trips by 2020.

With the 40:60 transport mode ratio, it is targeted that at least four million trips are made via public transport by 2020 while the remaining six million trips are through private vehicles.

The EIA also explained that the mode share for rail use in the Klang Valley was expected to increase five-fold by 2020 from 400,000 trips per day in 2009 to 2 million trips in 2020.

It added that the MRT’s first line, the Sungai Buloh – Kajang route, is estimated to have a daily ridership of 442,000 passengers in its opening year, expected to be in 2016.

The EIA report was released on February 14 and is presently up for public viewing at Department of Environment (DOE) offices nationwide and several public libraries until March 15.

The Malaysian Insider reported yesterday a suggestion by transport advocates Association for the Improvement of Mass Transit or “Transit” that the ambitious MRT project could be replaced by the BRT.

The group’s chairman Muhammad Zulkarnain Hamzah said that a well-developed BRT could achieve the same aim as the MRT but at a fraction of the cost.

As an example, he said that the cost to construct 1km of an underground MRT rail could amount to RM1 billion while 1km of a BRT line would only cost up to RM20 million.

But the EIA found that the BRT, as one of the project options considered as an alternative to the MRT, was only viable to serve as an “intermediate mode” to facilitate the MRT.

This, the report said, was to help provide the needed momentum change towards public transport in a relatively quick and low cost manner for the later implementation of higher capacity models.

[TRANSIT: No disagreement there. TRANSIT is not saying no to MRT. We are saying that perhaps it would be wiser to implement an intermediate rapid transit system (actually, we should start with a basic system first) and develop our master plan, all the while watching to see where the greatest demand is. Then we build MRT.]

The report noted that in the government’s National Key Results Areas (NKRA), there were plans proposed for the establishment of new prioritised radial bus corridors, including the implementation of the BRT.

“The BRT is appropriate for development of public transport usage in corridors which currently have low public transport share.

[TRANSIT: That means BRT is appropriate for every corridor except for the Federal Highway, since all corridors have low public transport modal share – in fact, the numbers are so low as to be too small to measure.]

“In the Kuala Lumpur context, the BRT should be considered as ‘intermediate mode’,” the report said.

It explained that using the BRT in Malaysia was not realistic as in order to serve the 30,000 PPHPD target, “30m bi-articulated” BRT buses running at 30-second intervals would be needed, as well as two dedicated bus lanes in each direction and a central station lane.

This, it said, meant that highways would have to be as wide as five lanes, much like the BRT system used in Bogota, Columbia.

[TRANSIT: Again, we are not trying to match the target here – BRT will bring intermediate capacity on more corridors.]

When suggesting the BRT, Zulkarnain had cited figures from Bogota’s BRT as an example.

He told The Malaysian Insider that Bogota’s BRT buses record passenger travels of more than 20,000 PPHPD but if the BRT lanes were dedicated merely to cars, especially single occupancy vehicles, a maximum of only 2,000 PPHPD can be reached.

“It is not feasible to allocate this level of at-grade capacity in the city areas which the radial service must directly connect to,” the EIA report said.

It also said that the average speed of the BRT was considerably lower than the MRT, meaning that over longer corridors, travel time would be significantly longer.

[TRANSIT: Lower than MRT, what what about when compared to the current traffic times with the massive congestion that we have? Yes, let’s do nothing and wait for the MRT to solve all our problems.]

In its report, ERE estimated that BRT buses, with an average passenger load of 90 passengers per car, travelled at a speed between 20 and 30 kilometres per hour (kph) while a four-carriage MRT, with an average passenger load of 250 per car, averaged between 35 and 70kph.

[TRANSIT: When exactly is the MRT going to be traveling a speed as high as 70km/h?]

The EIA added that the quality of service with the BRT was not as high as the use of trains and commuters were likelier to opt for the MRT instead of hopping on the bus.

“The scenario of using bus services tightly packed with passengers (standing room only) as would be required at this level of demand is not likely to attract affluent car users onto public transport, which is an essential element to impact modal shift,” said the report.

[TRANSIT: And yet, our small 4-carriage LRT trains are not at crush load, tightly packed with passengers? Our future MRT with only 4-carriage trains and no room for expansion will not be at crush load, tightly packed with passengers?]

In the same section of the EIA, ERE also listed street trams, the monorail system and the Light Rapid Transit (LRT) systems as other project options to the MRT.

The report noted that street trams was likely an inappropriate option as passenger demand would far surpass the mode’s capacity and land in the city centre was too constrained to facilitate the construction of tram lines.

[TRANSIT: That is unrealistic to say since street trams have capacity similar to the LRT carriages. Again, they do not have the line capacity but they cost a fraction of LRT or MRT.]

Similarly, the report found that the city’s present monorail system would not adequately operate on the corridors that the MRT aims to serve.

For the LRT, the report said that the present rail system would not be able to facilitate an eventual capacity of 40,000 PPHPD, which is targeted with the MRT.
[TRANSIT: If you read carefully, you would see that our vaunted MRT would struggle to reach the 40,000 passengers per hour per direction threshold as well.]

There was no reason given.

The report said that the MRT system was one of “high-capacity and high quality service”, with major interchange stations located in high-demand areas in the city centre.

[TRANSIT: Yes, one of those major interchange stations (e.g. KL Sentral) have been raising some questions.]

“High accessibility to the surrounding land developments is essential to enable a shift from the current high proportion of private car usage,” said the report.

[TRANSIT: From what we have seen, the MRT will not integrate well with a lot of surrounding land developments, and questions have already been raised about how people living beyond the 400-500m radius of the stations will be able to access the MRT – something which SPAD’s CEO admitted they did not plan for, beyond a limited local feeder bus system.]

It added that the MRT, set to kick off construction in July, would form the backbone of the country’s transport system.

“This is part of an integrated network with seamless connectivity between supporting modes to make it the preferred mode, design will emphasise on its convenience, reliability, pleasant usage, affordability, accessibility and efficiency.

“And as such, the MRT system was deemed the most appropriate system for Kuala Lumpur,” it concluded.

In the first phase of its three-line proposal, the Klang Valley MRT will have 35 stations along its 51km line that stretches from Sungai Buloh to Kajang, with 13 proposed park-and-ride stations and four interchanges.

Eight of the stations will be underground as 9.5km of the line will be built under the capital city. Groundwork for the MRT is due to start this July 16 and will be completed in 2016.

The proposed alignment map is up for public viewing until May 14 at seven locations across the city.

They are Kuala Lumpur City Hall, Petaling Jaya City Council, Shah Alam City Council, Selayang Municipal Council, Kajang Municipal Council as well as the Bangsar LRT station and the SPAD office in Menara Dayabumi.

The public can provide their feedback on the project via email to or through the SPAD toll-free line at 1-800-82-6868.


Well, there you have it … official “proof” that the MRT, despite the many holes in the planning, incomplete finances, smelly award of Project Delivery Partner to MMC-Gamuda, and the lack of a master plan (as well as the public objections in some areas) is the only viable solution for the Klang Valley, to meet targets set by the government which may or may not be realistic and achievable.

And BRT is only capable as an intermediate solution and therefore does not serve the needs of the Klang Valley because it will not move as many people in a single corridor as the MRT – never mind that it will move many people in more corridors and be a vast improvement over the poor public transport system that we have now (which does not even qualify as a ‘basic’ system).

This, dear readers, is the world of infrastructure politics and it is not much different in Malaysia as compared to other countries – someone makes a decision, then finds a consultant to justify the decision that has already made by selectively interpreting data and limiting the scope of thinking.

TRANSIT has seen this before, and we will see it again.

So let us be very clear, once again for the sake of all:

  • There are multiple public transport corridors in the Klang Valley;
  • We have low public transport modal share on almost every route;
  • Bus Rapid Transit and Expressway Rapid Transit are suitable “intermediate” capacity rapid transit systems that will get public transport to a minimum level of reliability and frequency;
  • Bus Rapid Transit and Expressway Rapid Transit cannot compare to MRT carrying capacity on any single corridor – however, the lower cost of these modes will allow construction on multiple corridors;
  • Having rapid transit on multiple corridors will reach more public transport users;
  • There is no evidence given that shows that any of the proposed MRT corridors have a need for between 20,000 passengers per hour per direction and the 40,000 pphpd that has been set as a target by the government.
  • At full capacity, the MRT would struggle to achieve that 40,000 pphpd target set by the government based on this math: 3600 seconds/hour x 1 train / 109s = 33 trains per hour; 1200 passengers/train x 33 trains per hour = 39600 passengers per hour per direction for the MRT;
  • Since the MRT fleet is 58 trains, if all trains are used (assuming no spare trains) there would be 29 trains per direction, traveling over a route that is 90 minutes in length – therefore the actual number of trains per hour in either direction on the line is 19 trains. We can say 20 trains
  • however, the line capacity of 39600 passengers per hour per direction requires 33 trains per hour. With 20 trains per hour per direction, the line capacity is 1200 x 20 = 24000 passengers per hour per direction.

Oh, by the way, our comments have reached the attention of the Malaysian Insider, which published these articles:

18 replies on “Consultant: Buses cannot replace MRT; TRANSIT: MRT cannot replace buses (Update #1)”


We can, and we will. But consultants have to be paid and projects have to be justified. Using questionable numbers is one way that consultants earn their pay.

But TRANSIT also knows how to use numbers – and uncover holes in plans and weaknesses in arguments.

Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

hi Ethan

We did forget to analyze the average speeds for the MRT but average speeds would be higher depending on the wait times.

Generally, we would limit average speeds to a generous 35km/h anyways. Hardly a “silver streak” of a train, is it. Truth is, no urban train needs its curvy shape in order to save energy or reduce wind resistance – they are just there for appearance’s sake

Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

Nobody deny the role of buses and mrt, they depends on each other and they are a marvellous team if bus and mrt work together and intergrated properly. Buses and mrt will work even better if they can have a smart, proper and smart common ticketing system that don’t always created problems/troubles.

I think SPAD should be headed by a westerner who has balls to erupt change, not some old timer who is part of the failing system

Hi Moaz,

What I meant by “average speed” is the operational speed, which includes dwell time at stations.

Theoretically, a 70km/h maximum allowable speed would result in an operational speed of around 45km/h; thus, it clearly shows that the MRT would not reach the maximum speed at many sections.

Don’t you know our government always try to show that “Malaysia Boleh”?? Our very “efficient” Malaysian government “need faces” and they cannot afford to “lose face”. Didn’t you know that?? They despise of hiring an expert from a country with more advance and more organized and efficient public transport system like Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong or England by giving lame excuses like we want to save money, we believe Malaysia also has the right talent and people etc. When Singapore build the MRT in the initial stage during the 1980’s, they also hired some mat salleh. Did the whole world laugh at them?? Did the whole world says that they don’t have the right people and talent?? See how efficient the public transport in Singapore now!!! Most of the foreigners they have in the SMRT now are Malaysians or people from other neighbouring cuontries who work as bus drivers, train drivers, engineers, technicians and etc. Almost all the top management people in SMRT now are almost 100% Singaporeans with a few Singapore PR only.

Hi @lanwm

I’m not sure why you would be confused. Zulkarnain Hamzah is the Chairman of TRANSIT, and he posts and comments on this blog whenever he has the opportunity, but I handle the online stuff on a day-to-day basis.

Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

anyway, I mostly (maybe 75%) agreed with Transit argument except that “to build the intermediate rapid bus transit system first, then build MRT”

I see, MRT as a back-bone and BRT as a rib-bone or alternatively MRT as batang pokok and BRT as ranting or dahan pokok. The former must come before the later, am i right ?


Thanks for your comment. To borrow from your analogy, before vertebrates developed the backbone, they had to develop nerves with protective structures (myelin sheaths) that make the nerves more efficient.

Hence, before our transit system can develop the “backbone” it has to develop a nervous system with protection that will make the nerves more efficient.

Bus lanes and Bus Rapid Transit are to our bus routes what myelin is to our nerves.

Once myelination takes place, the next step is to develop complex nerve cords.

Some of those nerve cords will evolve into the backbone, just as some routes of the Bus Rapid Transit network would evolve into mass-rapid transit lines.

Thanks for helping us find a new way to explain the concept of a public transport network.

Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

some people so proud of having MRT..that they have forgotten that bus also evolve in term of technology..

we so proud of malaysia boleh even at stake scarifying almost 50billion..:D

ERE CONsultants is just another Malaysian Based company that “does it best” to “comply to what’s already predetermined. The market is aware that their study fees is atlest 50-60% off market rates.

The only notable consultants registered with the authorities are Hallcrow, ERM, Klasik & maybe Minconsult but again contractors are only interested to make money for themselves and to not dig deep on unneccesary cost deemed to them.

Then there’s another issue, the people sitting on the board, approving these projects. Believe me when I tell you, often the cart is placed before the horse therefore they are harressed and at most times hessitently and hastly approve projects despite dissatisfactory in the TIA / EIA reports. I suppose what can they do when instructions are from the TOP i.e. from the politician themselfs whom had initiated the project.



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