New generation BRT system a sustainable solution to transport woes
Without integrating transportation with land use planning, Penang’s public transit faces the daunting challenge of creating strategies for policies, technologies, infrastructure, and business models that pave a path to the future.
The challenge lies in creating strategies that lead to scalable solutions for meeting growth in demand, including strategies affecting the communication, navigation and transit-oriented development.
We need a transit-oriented land use policy that gears towards transportation improvements to make land more accessible and so increase the likelihood that it will be developed or redeveloped. Unfortunately, we only have policies that worsen our transportation and traffic congestion.
The wanton changes made to the development density against the permissible maximum density with total disregard to traffic management are contributing to serious environmental problems, traffic congestion and urban sprawl.
What is an urban sprawl? The rapid expansion of metropolitan areas through building housing developments and shopping centres farther and farther from urban centres and lacing them together with more and more major highways. This is the type of development envisaged by Lim Guan Eng’s administration. It is characterised by high densities, few transportation options, and rigid separation of residences, jobs, and shops that will exacerbate air and water pollution, noise pollution, habitat loss, and a decline in ecosystem functions.
It can also increase the demands on the road system and reduce the efficiency of the system, as the same number of people and same level of economic activity generates more and longer trips. Managing these challenges is particularly demanding when transportation and land use are planned separately, as they are in most localities.
On June 13, 2014, it was reported in the newspapers that the state government will call for tenders for its RM27 billion Public Transport Master Plan, scheduled to start in stages from next year until it is completed in 2030. The plan sounds ambitious but suffers from a serious lack of policy direction. It is an addition to the RM6.8 billion roads and undersea tunnel projects on the island awarded to Consortium Zenith BUCG Sdn Bhd.
For our transportation system to sustain future growth we must use road space and transit facilities more efficiently and we should not be too dependent on private vehicles and road expansion. Penang with its limited resources and land scarcity should use public bus transit in innovative ways to improve mobility.
What we need is a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system complemented by electric vehicles and bikes sharing service that eliminates the need for further investment on the feeder bus system.
The conventional urban feeder buses inching their way through congested streets don’t win much political support as the system failed to bring transit to every corner of the state.
The ability to provide public transportation with the flexibility to serve a variety of access needs and unlimited range of locations throughout a metropolitan is the key for a successful public transportation system. The innovation in mini electric car provides the fastest, safest, most practical, time-saving, and fun way to get to where you want. The infrastructure investments can be substantially lower than the capital costs required for rail systems or other types of transport systems.
In this new generation of BRT system, the BRT is limited to the main arterial streets or highways. Feeder bus services are replaced with public shared electric vehicles or bikes that allow passengers in a certain locality to travel to a transfer point where they make an onward journey on a BRT service.
Using electric vehicles in city car-share schemes to encourage increased vehicle sharing will reduce the number of privately owned cars and the number of parking spaces needed. The new ultra-narrow electric car can also park perpendicularly to the curb like a bike, allowing four vehicles in one parallel parking space. The reduction in the number of parking spaces is essential for a less congested road system.
In this way, BRT greatly improves public transportation by providing faster, more dependable service on arterial streets by reducing or eliminating the various types of delay.
The worst thing that ever happened to us is the way money was spent on transit infrastructure that does not benefit us.
The state government only needs about US$2 billion (RM7billion) to implement a BRT based on the following specifications:
The estimate has been compiled using the BRT infrastructure cost estimation calculator provided by IDTP. Some of the costs have been purposely exaggerated.
This BRT system has a service route with a total length of 250km with 600 buses. It consists of more than seven main transit corridors, i.e. Penang Outer Ring Transit Corridor (60km), Penang Central Transit Corridor (25km), Penang Mainland Transit Corridor (50km) and the existing BEST transit Corridor (20km), etc. A total of eight large intermediate transfer stations for multiple feeder services are allocated to link up all the corridors to complete the loop for a total solution.
The BRT system also has a public shared electric vehicle system with a fleet of 25,000 units and 100,000 docking stations. Each BRT station has two public shared bicycle stations with 10 public shared bicycles for easy renting. This BRT system is complemented by a large public shared electric vehicle programme of 25,000 vehicles with 10,000 docking stations to serve commuters. It also puts emphasis on improving pedestrian walking by allocating a budget of RM133 million for pedestrian crosswalk, pedestrian bridge and improvements to pedestrian access ways (250km).
If the government drops the RM6.8 billion roads and tunnels project, with the money saved we only need to come out with less than RM300 million extra for this sustainable solution.
Why waste money to the tune of billions for white elephant projects with dubious economic viability when we can have an affordable transit solution?
No concession needs to be given. No toll to be paid. No environmental impact. No major financial risk. No wastage of land resources. No extra road building.
It is a sustainable solution, the elixir of growth that will make Penang livable and accessible in a sustainable way. It is imperative for us to initiate a Bus Rapid Transit solution that is complemented by public sharing vehicles, cycling and pedestrian travel to solve our traffic woes.
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