KUCHING: Signs are looking positive that construction of the first phase of the city’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system will begin next year.
State Minister of Housing and Urban Development Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg said that his ministry’s recommendation has been accepted by Pemandu and that they are currently waiting for the funds to be made available.
“I believe we can get some money next year,” he told The Borneo Post when met at his open house during the second day of Hari Raya.
He added that the federal government’s response has been quite positive as they had been involved from the start by the state ministry, including participating in a transportation lab earlier this year which was held in Kuching between industry experts, bus operators, and various state and federal government agencies.
The BRT is one of the recommendations which resulted from the lab.
The first phase will connect the north and the south area in and around the city, from Kota Sentosa/Serian right up to Petra Jaya, passing through the Sixth Mile bus interchange, the university area, and the central city area.
The need for efficient public transport along this stretch of road is quite dire as it is very congested.
Another reason why it was selected for the first phase is because it also has the passenger volume to support the BRT.
Abang Johari said that in addition to upgrading the present road system, construction would also involve widening roads, and building dedicated bus lanes and bus stops.
He is hopeful that the first phase will be in place in two or three years’ time by the middle of the coming Malaysia Plan.
He added that the cost for the whole system exceeds RM200 million, but the ministry only bade RM200 million.
Abang Johari said that in order for the system to be sustainable, bus operators must be strong enough to handle the fluctuations in operation, maintenance and fuel costs. He stressed that relying on revenue from passenger fare alone would not be sufficient.
With its population of 600,000, Kuching currently has the population to sustain a BRT system, but not a Light Rapid Transit (LRT) or train system which needs a population of more than 1 million and subsidies of up to 50 per cent to justify its construction.
The minister said that even with the present BRT plan, subsidies would still be required to make it feasible unless operators are able to diversify their sources of revenue.
He added that a study was currently underway to look into this issue.
It has yet to be decided if a consortium would be appointed to operate the BRT system.
However, The Borneo Post has learnt through reliable sources that the state government is looking to follow the public transport model in Hong Kong which relies on income derived from real estate development to offset operating costs and keep public transportation affordable.
Under this model, transport operators benefit by acquiring real estate located around major transport hubs and route development, developing them then renting or selling them for offices and commercial purposes .
This also means that the operators profit from the appreciation of property prices which they can also use to subsidise operating costs. It is understood that studies are still being carried out to explore this possibility and it is not clear yet whether and how this real estate will be acquired and by whom.
The first phase of the BRT is part of a two-pronged approach which the state government is using to tackle public transport woes in the city. It will intersect with the riverine transport system which is currently being upgraded to connect areas lying to the east and west of the city centre.