TRANSIT took note of this interesting photo of a sign in one of our LRT trains – advertising improvements to RapidKL bus services.
To the top of the photo, we see an advertisement for RapidBET Route #3, which connects Subang Mewah to Pasar Seni, Kuala Lumpur. And down in the right hand corner, the message “RapidBRT Akan Datang! Coming Soon!”
But what exactly is RapidBRT?
Well, we know that BRT stands for Bus Rapid Transit – a “rapid transit” system of public transport using buses as the vehicle technology. In TRANSIT’s view the term “rapid transit” can encompass any type of public transport operating in a Category “A” or Category “B” right-of-way.
Just a few terms to help explain the different categories:
- Right-Of-Way or “ROW” refers to the specific corridor traveled by a vehicle, of which there are 3 categories (described below in reverse order)
- Category C – a public transport system operating in a right-of-way on the surface that allows different types of vehicles to operate together (a.k.a. “mixed traffic”). This is the slowest type of public transport and does not meet the expectations of “rapid transit”
- Category B – a public transport system operating in a right-of-way on the surface that is longitudinally separated (by a kerb, fence, or painted lane marking) from other vehicles. With traffic signal control and other measures, this can be described as “rapid transit” and has much faster service than Category C operations.
- Category A – a public transport system operating in a right of way that is completely separated from other forms of transport, (operating either on the surface, above or below ground) and usually designed for high capacity and / or high frequency operations.
In Malaysia, the KTM Komuter, ETS, LRT, monorail and future MRT services can be described as Category A rapid transit. All other bus services operate in Category C. One could say that bus lanes could be described as Category B, but the number of bus lanes and their effectiveness is insignificant.
Bus Rapid Transit, in most cases, would be considered as a low-capacity, Category B type of rapid transit. Ideally, the term “Bus” Rapid Transit should be replaced by “Basic” Rapid Transit, considering the following reasons:
The term “Bus” is limiting, and suggests that only buses can be used – this puts the focus on the type of technology used rather then the service provided;
The term “Basic” fits better with other terms for “rapid transit” such as “Mass Rapid Transit” (MRT) and “Light Rapid Transit” (LRT);
The term “Basic” suggests that there is an opportunity to build the basic level of rapid transit now, thus building a complete network of “rapid transit” now, with an opportunity to develop and upgrade parts of the network to “light” or “intermediate” or “mass” rapid transit in the future.
There are a number of proposed corridors starting with the Federal Highway and Jalan Syed Putra serving the south and west side of the Klang valley, and Jalan Genting Klang serving the north side.
The big questions right now is about RapidBRT, namely:
- What exactly is RapidBRT?
- How different is it from BET service?
- How do RapidKL and other bus operators fit into the plans for BRT?
And perhaps most importantly, is it wise to add another type of public transport into our already complicated system, when the basic public transport service is not even meeting basic expectations, when many local areas are losing their bus services, when attempts at expanding bus lanes are receiving public objection resulting in government flip-flopping, and when there is no Local Public Transport Authority or similar body responsible for the coordination, management and organization of public transport services.
In other words, should we be trying to build bus rapid transit when we are still having trouble getting basic public transport to work in Malaysia?
And that’s without talking about the public relations optics of bus rapid transit, with the whole concept that “bus lanes (without which bus rapid transit cannot work) will take lanes away from cars.”
That said, here are some thoughts and questions about bus rapid transit that we raised back in May 2011. As always, your feedback is welcome. And of course, we will do our best to get more information about RapidBRT.
To make the BRT effective we need:
- To consider losing a few expressways – or at least, making sure that these expressways make space for public transport;
- To design bus rapid transit that is accessible – because these services will lack the infrastructure of LRT and MRT stations (not much parking, feeder bus drop off, etc) they will have to be within walking distance of the majority of their users;
- To educate the public that bus lanes and Bus Rapid Transit do not cause congestion – indeed, this will be one of the toughest challenges for SPAD to face;
- To be willing to take necessary steps to reduce traffic volumes in our cities – including the use of transit malls and congestion charges.
- To understand that half-measures will get us nowhere. The huge advantage of Bus Rapid Transit is that it can be implemented quickly – meaning that we can develop a vast rapid transit network without the capital costs of MRT or LRT – but it will only work if we have the network, not a few isolated services (much like hour our isolated bus lanes do not work) effectively;
- To include and accommodate existing stage bus operators – they can provide line-haul services on the Bus Rapid Transit or feeder services from the suburban areas to the terminal stations – with high quality standards and enforcement, of course.
If implemented, Bus Rapid Transit will change the face of public transport in Kuala Lumpur – and indeed in Malaysia. But it will not work by itself. The Bus Rapid Transit have to be a part of multiple projects to reduce the impact of single operator vehicles on our urban roads.
For fun, we conclude with these two interesting posts by Jarrett Walker of the blog Human Transit:
Bus rapid transit in india: an upbeat view (25 May 2010) talks about the challenges and opportunities of implementing Bus Rapid Transit in a number of cities in India.
Bus rapid transit: some questions to ask (26 November 2009) suggests that people ask specific questions about Bus Rapid Transit (for the purpose of gathering information) rather than passing judgement. The questions that Jarrett raises are:
- Are we talking about exclusive right of way? [TRANSIT: meaning that the buses would be fully separated from other traffic by kerbs/medians – considering our issues with bus lanes, we certainly need the kerbs];
- Is it a fully separated busway (like Brisbane/Ottawa?) [TRANSIT: One option for Bus Rapid Transit is a fully separated (or “Grade separated”) busway would run on its own exclusive road and could also run above or underground.]
- Are there exceptions to the stated degree of exclusivity and separation? If so, where, and why? [TRANSIT: These questions are important because the more we mess with the completeness of the network, the more problems we will have. Also, we have to consider existing bottlenecks which would disrupt the flow achieved by the bus-rapid transit system.]
- Is it “open” or “closed”? [TRANSIT: An “open” BRT system would allow other buses to enter and exit the system at various points – allowing a variety of services (fast one-seat trips from suburbs to town and back, along with frequent service along the corridor) – but with some disadvantages. A “closed” system is much like a LRT or MRT but using buses – no other vehicles can enter the system, there are “stations” and “ticketing systems” – we do not know the details yet but there would be an expectation of a mostly-closed system. We do know that there is already a plan to “close” the system to other operators.]
- Will they use existing stops or cut out certain stops? [TRANSIT: This question is specific to our situation in KL, where the BRT corridors would likely be implemented on existing public transport corridors & routes. More stops = slower service. Fewer stops = faster service but less convenience.]
- What about greenhouse gas emissions?
- What about localized emissions? [TRANSIT: Both in the urban areas and the bus depots]
- What is the overall level of design and amenity?
- How much money have we saved against the rail option, and how much more service will that buy?