30 JULY 2012 - Bus drivers obstructing traffic flow during peak hours has raised major concerns among motorists. StarMetro reports.
Traffic jam is a perennial problem in Kuala Lumpur and motorists spend hours stuck in traffic jams. The city loses millions of ringgit each day due to traffic congestion, leading to a loss of two per cent in Malaysia’s gross domestic product (about RM10bil) every year.
According to Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) traffic inspector Gunasegaran Dass, the main culprit behind the gridlock are the buses plying the city routes.
“Buses cause 60% of the traffic congestion in the city, especially during peak hours," said Gunasegaran.
He said bus drivers often ignore traffic rules on major roads in Kuala Lumpur, citing examples of drivers who drop off passengers at non-designated stops.
“For instance, in Little India in Brickfields, all it takes is one bus to pick up and drop off passengers right in the middle of the road and there will be traffic pile-up,” he said.
“If several buses do the same thing, then the congestion is even worse and DBKL officers are often blamed for the traffic chaos," he said.
“When we issue summonses to the errant driver on the spot, we are also adding to the jam and the public blame us for not being concerned," he said.
Public transport is one of the Government’s six National Key Results Area (NKRA), and the Government through agencies like DBKL is hoping to increase public transport usage from the current 16% to 50% by 2020. But should that be done at the expense of others?" asked Gunasegaran.
Is it competition or goodwill?
It is no secret that bus companies flout traffic rules to beat competition. Some companies offer their drivers perks to maximise on revenue and this leads to active competition, especially if there are more than one bus operator serving a particular route.
“We depend on customers as the more customers we get, the more money we make," said a Metro bus driver who only identified himself as Hasnudin.
He said Metro buses operate differently from other bus companies as the drivers did not get a basic salary.
They rely on commissions and as such, they must get as many customers as possible, even if it means resorting to aggressive measures.
Drivers get a 13% commission while conductors take home 10% of the total daily earnings, meaning that if the bus company makes RM1,000 a day, drivers stand to earn RM3,900 while the conductors take home RM3,000 a month. They have a daily target and the minimum they get per day is RM70.
“That’s why we need to work hard to attract passengers," Hasnudin said, adding that although he tries to adhere to traffic rules, sometimes he gives in to customers’ demands and drops them off at certain places as requested.
However, the situation is different for bus operators not reliant on commissions.
While operators like RapidKL pay their drivers a fixed salary, there have been many instances where RapidKL buses have flouted the rules.
The drivers have been seen picking and dropping off passengers in different parts of the city.
“I figured it was faster for me to go to them rather than for them to come to me," said Mat, a RapidKL bus driver."
“I also felt sorry for them, so I stopped. It’s not like I did anything bad,’’ said another driver who declined to be named when asked about his actions."
Whether it is competition or goodwill - both can have undesirable consequences and strict enforcement of regulations is a must to prevent a gridlock.
Imagine if all buses drivers are given incentives to maximise profit, the city will be chaotic.
Rude drivers and inadequate facilities
Due to the need to maximise revenue, drivers tend to pick up as many passengers they can despite the fact that the bus is already full. Incidences of drivers speeding to reach the bus stop just to get passengers and flouting traffic rules are common.
Metro buses, especially, hog bus stops to get as many passengers as possible, causing congestion at the bus stop as well as resentment among other operators.
There have been many cases of rivalry and fighting among bus drivers and at times, passengers and other motorists get caught in the situation.
Bus passengers also said insufficient bus stands are also the reason why drivers tend to stop at non-designated stops. Driver Saravana Rao said the bus companies must resolve the situation before it got worse.
“It’s a mess, especially during peak hours. We want to pull over to the side of the road but sometimes we have no choice," he said.
Enforcement and education the way forward
Independent traffic consultant Goh Bok Yen agrees that buses are the main contributing factor to the city’s congestion woes.
He said efforts by the Government under the NKRA like having more buses on the road will not be effective if bus operators do not change the way they conduct business.
“Improvements can only be made with strict regulations, effective enforcement and creating awareness," said Goh.
“I agree with DBKL’s finding that buses contribute to the traffic congestion in the city but adequate facilities must be put in place to overcome the problem."
“The lack of bus stops and bad designs contribute to the congestion, especially at bus terminals," said Goh.
He said if a bus stop was too small, this would make it difficult for buses to drop off passengers properly and drivers are forced to stop in the middle of the road, causing congestion.
Urban Public transport NKRA has shown encouraging results as there is now an increasing number of people choosing public transport to get around.
It has been reported that the number of people who travelled by bus stood at four million in 2011 and in a recent entry in his blog, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said customer satisfaction with public transport had increased to 53%.