Written by Jeremy Ling

Introduction

On the 19th of February 2021, RWC conducted a Webinar titled “Train without track – A Discussion on Automated Rapid Transit (ART) concurrently via Zoom and Facebook live. This discussion falls under the series of online Webinars known as the “RWC Community Series”, and RWC was given the privilege of hosting 2 distinct speakers in the field of transport law: Professor Dr. Irwin Ooi of Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM)  as well as Dr. Adi Aizat bin Yajid of Universiti Malaysia Kelantan. RWC’s partner Miss Marlysa Razak was the moderator for this talk.

The concept of ART

The panel discussed the topic of ART in general pursuant to the recent welcoming of the arrival of the ART system into the nation. The testing phase will begin soon in hopes that this new mode of transportation will boost the nation’s public transportation arsenal. Dr. Adi opined that the ART is essentially a crossover between a train and a bus. Although it does not run on conventional railway tracks, the ART runs on a “digital track”. Equipped with special sensors, the ART detects the boundaries of the track and the road to ensure that it does not run astray. 

The ART system was conceptualised in China back in 2017. Its first movements began in 2018, in the state of ZhuZhou. At the moment, China has this mode of transportation operating in public. Additionally, much like Malaysia, Qatar has also begun testing the ART system for future integration.

Regulatory challenges & Potential liabilities

Firstly, Professor Irwin identified the difficulties in the regulatory aspect of the ART. It is an undisputed fact that the ART possesses the characteristics of both a train and a bus. Owing to that, and the conventional drafting methods of Malaysia law, the ART can be neither classified as a bus nor a railway under the Land Public Transport Act  2010 (LPTA). Therefore, the provisions regulating liability under the LPTA will not be effective against the ART. 

Professor Irwin continued by raising two examples – If we were to treat the ART as a railway, S. 143 of the LPTA places a railways carrier under the category of private carrier. Passengers that board a railway are essentially contracting with the operating company and, in the event of an accident, will base their legal action on either a breach of contract or negligence. On the other hand, if we were to treat the ART as a bus, it will be considered a common carrier, whereby a duty of care will be owed to the public. If an accident were to occur where a passenger has suffered injuries, this breach of care would fall under the law of tort.

Physical & Economic challenges

Apart from that, Dr Adi raised a physical challenge that the ART may face in Malaysia. He highlighted the fact that, thus far, the ART has only been tested and used on roads that are smooth and straight. We do not know how the ART would operate in mountainous conditions or on winding roads. This limitation in data will be an obstacle as, in Malaysia, the degree of urbanisation varies from area to area. As such, the road conditions often vary. 

Lastly, Dr. Adi calls for consideration to be placed on the economic aspect of the integration of the ART. Operators ought to consider whether the public would be inclined to use this new mode of transportation. Due to the scarcity of the data currently available, there is no definite answer on the advantages of the ART as compared to the existing public transportations. Furthermore, the ART has so far only been used in locations of low population density and minimal points of interest; we remain unsure as to how the ART will perform in an area of high population density and multiple places of interest such as Kuala Lumpur Penang, or Johor Bahru. The success of the ART ultimately hinges on its ability to accommodate the conditions of the urban parts of the country.

COVID-19 & ART

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly caused the public to lose its confidence in public transports. Perhaps the biggest advantage of public transportation would be its ability to carry large amounts of passengers in a small space. With the current culture of separation and distancing, the public transport industry has been placed in a disadvantageous position. If the COVID-19 vaccinations turn out to not be an effective solution, operating companies may perhaps need to look into modifying their transportation systems to accommodate the COVID-19 situation. Professor Irwin gave the examples of air conditioner filters that are antibacterial and UV light sanitation to restore the public’s confidence in the public transportation industry.

Conclusion

In the end, both speakers and the moderator were in agreement that, apart from the challenges raised earlier, the arrival and successful integration of the ART will only be achieved with proper education and communication. Effective communication must be established amongst the parties along the entire chain of command: manufacturers, stakeholders, passengers, and regulatory bodies. Forums must be held to ensure that every party’s concerns and opinions have been acknowledged,e then only should a verdict be made. All in all, the ART is definitely something to look forward to. The arrival of this new mode of transportation has captured everyone’s attention as Malaysia will be the first country in the region to potentially adopt this technology.

 

Published on 23 February 2021

Photo by Animesh Chatterjee on Unsplash

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