I REFER to the report "RapidKL to introduce electric buses" (NST, June 1). It is a general consensus that clean energy is a prerequisite for sustainable economic development, in view of depleting fossil fuel reserves and the need to reduce the effects of greenhouse gases.
So, when RapidKL announced its intention to introduce electric buses in two years, it generated much publicity and expectations from commuters.
However, green technology cannot be introduced without taking into account operational issues that are hampering the creation of a clean and efficient stage-bus system by RapidKL and other privately-owned operators.
It is about time the government reconsidered the policy of disallowing the employment of foreign drivers in view of the many fatal road accidents involving overworked and reckless local drivers and the need to deploy hundreds of idle buses in the depots of RapidKL and private bus operators.
Foreign drivers can be brought in gradually by RapidKL since it runs a driving academy to train bus drivers.
Its appointment as sole agent can prevent the exploitation of foreign drivers by middlemen and unscrupulous employers.
Foreigners can be first employed on city routes that are short and easy to monitor, compared with long-distance journeys.
RapidKL and private-sector operators have hundreds of buses lying idle and this has caused inconvenience to commuters, bringing disrepute to the reliability of stage buses as a mode of public transport, and are a drain on the nation's financial resources.
It is pointless to deploy a handful of electric buses to showcase green technology when the rest of the bus service remains hamstrung by a shortage of drivers.
RapidKL and other private-bus operators, which enjoy subsidies in operating costs and purchase of new buses, owe the public accountability in the form of improved service with better buses driven by well-mannered drivers.
The deployment of electric buses must also take into account the capital expenditure needed to support a citywide electric bus operation.
It is not simply plugging these electric buses into household sockets for recharging. Many operational and safety factors have to evaluated.
Unlike electric buses, this country has local expertise in operating compressed natural gas (CNG) cars, taxis and buses.
The country also has an abundant supply of natural gas that can power our modes of transport well into the next century.
Instead of venturing into the uncharted waters of electric buses, we should turn to what we have.
The city has the infrastructure to support the filling of CNG buses in Petronas stations in the city.
A study must be carried out into the fuel efficiency and maintenance costs of CNG and electric buses, in view of the fact that each electric bus can buy two CNG or conventional diesel buses.
In our often irrational euphoria to leapfrog into adapting foreign technology, we must not forget to assess its sustainability.
The government has in place a biodiesel programme to supplant fossil fuel in powering our motor industry.
Thus, surely, as the largest stage bus operator in the country, RapidKL can better position itself as a pioneer operator of the largest biodiesel fleet of buses, and in the process, stimulate demand for palm oil and corn ethanol.
Let us not forget that electricity for electric buses must be bought from coal-fired power plants or diesel-powered plants that may generate more carbon dioxide (CO2) emission at its source and, thus, contribute to global warming.
RapidKL can also tap its financial resources to replace the smoke-belching fleet of old buses belonging to private stagebus operators, which have been tasked with complementing RapidKL's service as feeder-service providers.
This can be done by leasing its hundreds of new buses with more fuel efficient engines to private stage-bus operators and sharing with them newly-acquired ancillary operating hardware and management software, such as the cashless ticketing system.
The cashless ticketing system is too expensive to be installed in old buses, but it has proven to cut down on passenger boarding time. Less boarding time means less idling engines at bus stops and terminals.
When RapidKL buses are deployed optimally in partnership with private-sector operators, fewer buses will be needed while the frequency of service will be improved.
Such a smart partnership will reduce CO2 emission without having to resort to the huge capital outlays for electric buses and their infrastructure system.
Clearly, there is much that can be done to improve the operations of stage bus operators and improve the air quality through the deployment of newer buses.
And all these can be achieved without further dipping into the public purse.