LAST_UPDATEWed, 20 Jun 2018 12pm

The Problem With Malaysia's Public Transport. Is Change On The Horizon?

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Life in Kuala Lumpur is not complete without its infamous traffic jam. I could say that for most of us, the only jams that we “eat” daily are traffic jams!

The most common solution that we have seen being applied to this problem is to build more highways. “Hey, let’s build another highway and guess what? You know what, we still move at 5km/h!

Last month, Selangor Menteri Besar, Azmin Ali had publicly stated that building more highways does not necessarily solve the traffic problems but rather focus should be more on improving our public transports efficiency and proceeding to cancel the Kinrara-Damansara Expressway (Kidex) project.

Exactly what most us were thinking about. Is change on the horizon? Can we realistically expect any significant improvement in the next five years?

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The Selangor MB also said at least 60 percent (currently it is 40 percent) is being targeted for public transport services usage, and part of that is to integrate the construction of houses with an efficient transport system for the well-being of the people.

According to SPAD chairman Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar, a survey was carried out by the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) in 2012 and 2013 and the statistics involving all land transport systems show commitment to improve.

“No country has ever climbed from low-income to middle- or high-income status without a significant and dynamic land public transport. Therefore, it is important for us now to give priority to public transport investment, rather than giving priority to building roads in the name of connectivity and relieving congestion,” he said.

According to a draft version of the Greater Klang Valley/Kuala Lumpur Land Public Transport Master Plan prepared by SPAD in 2011, “door-to-door travel times for private vehicles remain competitive against the use of public transport. Travel times are much higher by public transport, resulting in poorer accessibility to jobs and facilities,” it said.

“Travel times by car are typically shorter than by public transport for many journeys in the region. The exception is those corridors currently well-served by rail such as the LRT corridors,” it added.

I can readily identify with that finding. As a student, I used to take public transports like the LRT, monorail, bus and taxi and it was not a pleasant experience. From my house I usually take the bus that goes straight to the LRT station but I had to wait for 30 minutes to 1 hour. If I am rushing, I will take a taxi, which will cost me RM7 whereas if I took the bus, I could save RM6.

In The Absence Of Feasible Public Transport, The Taxi Is The Only Option

Many commuters have no choice but to use the taxi option like I did. Although the cost is over 500% more than public transport, many commuters are simply left with no other viable option.

On March 19, the cabinet had agreed to increase taxi fares. A relief for taxi drivers and a new burden for consumers.

Malaysian Digest spoke with Mohd Zam Haron who is in his early 40s and has been driving a taxi for 16 years to share his insights into the new fare rate. He pointed out that the fare rate in Malaysia is actually cheap compare to other Southeast Asian countries.

En Zam shared with us what his taxi looked like. His taxi has free wifi and customers also can pay by ATM and credit card. Photo: En Mohd Zam HaronEn Zam shared with us what his taxi looked like. His taxi has free wifi and customers also can pay by ATM and credit card. Photo: En Mohd Zam Haron

“According to the SPAD guideline, every 2 years there will be a new research on the fare rate. But in 2013, the research has been done but they couldn’t announce it because of the nation’s economic situation, the price hike of world crude oil and last year because of the flood.

“Until the day of the announcement, it has been postponed 3 times.

“If the fare is still the same, it will affect the service itself. Drivers and operators can’t cover the maintenance cost. The result is there are some taxis where their bumpers were falling apart and leaked engine oil. This will harm the driver and passengers.

Mohd Zam also shared with us, with the new fare rate in accordance with the ever rising cost of living; he gave assurance that taxi drivers will abide by the rules set by SPAD.

“Because before this the rate was under the cost of living, most drivers do not like to use the meter rate because it has been fixed. Now with the new fare rate, services will be a lot better, efficient and drivers will become more responsible. In other words they will not try to charge more than they should.

“If there are a small percentage of drivers still charging more that is when SPAD steps in.

“SPAD enforcement needs to be strict and not biased,” he said.

Traffic Jams And Drivers Shortage, Chain Effect Leading To Unreliable Bus Services

I think it is safe to say that those who have been to Singapore and experienced personally their public transport would say Singapore public transport system is of world class. Isaac Teh, 28-year-old business owner shared with us with his experience of using public transport in Malaysia and the land of Merlion.

“In my opinion, public transport in Malaysia is good. It just that especially for bus, I have to wait for a long time and if I am in a hurry, I have to take a taxi.

“As for taxis, there are drivers who don’t use the meter because the destination is either too far or location is too secluded. Their excuse is after they drop me, it will be hard to get new customers.

Photo: Sinar HarianPhoto: Sinar HarianAs for bus services, most of us who use Rapid KL have resigned ourselves to the fact that most of the time it seems like they don't have a schedule or a timetable that they can stick with regularly.

According to its website, Rapid KL operates over 160 routes, covering over 980 housing estates with a daily average ridership of 280,000. In 2013, the company was operating a fleet size of over 1,500 buses. Azhar Ghazali, spokesperson for Rapid KL gave us his company’s feedback on the issue.

"There are a few factors that affect the actual buses' travel and scheduling. The biggest problem faced by the industry now is lack of drivers. Rapid KL has launched various initiatives to get more bus drivers. Even though it received a lot of responses, it is still not enough.

“Among the initiatives include collaboration with the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, society groups and other organizations. We also have initiated the 'walk-in-interviews' programme at Rapid KL bus depots. We also have arranged training programmes in our Bus Academy.

“We give a lot of incentives for those who are interested to work with Rapid KL. The problem of buses' frequency can only be overcome by adding more bus. Sadly, this industry does not have enough drivers.

"Another factor that contributes to the bus frequency issue is the unpredictable traffic condition around the Klang Valley area. It gives a major impact to the smoothness of bus' travel. In this context, Rapid KL did make a suggestion to the authority to provide bus lanes to show their support for public transport service.

Can Malaysia Have A World Class Transport System?

A decent public transport system is taking into account the ‘network effect'. This is an interconnecting train, tram and bus system, where timetables and exchanges correspond and interlock permitting 'anyplace to-anyplace' traverse a city.

It also has a system of public transport lines where the structure is simple and the timetable is steady, making it easy for the people to learn and comprehend it.

While public transport critics regularly assert that public transport just works in populaces with high thickness, the confirmation indicates something else. Case in point, Toronto, Vancouver and Zurich all have regions with lower densities than Melbourne, yet quality public transport systems have been effectively acquainted with these urban communities.

Take for example Hong Kong’s mass transit railway (MTR - the world most envied metro system. With around 1.6 billion users every year, it is by a long shot the most mainstream transportation mode in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong MTR. Photo: Kong MTR. Photo:, Hong Kong’s MTR has the world's most astounding "fare box recovery rate" - the rate of wage got from ticket deals weighed against operating costs - ordinarily returning between 150-180%.

That extraordinarily high fare box recovery rate can be ascribed to a limited extent to the city's thickly pressed populace where taking the metro is the natural option for suburbanites in Hong Kong due to the effectiveness and dependability of the framework.

The 2015 Budget proposed by the Malaysian Federal Government allocates 81.6% for Operating Expenditure and just 18.4% assigned to Development Expenditure with just RM3.3 billion (1.2% of aggregate plan consumption) allotted to the Transport Ministry, which means many of the improvement to the public transport systems will have to be financed by public/private joint ventures as the ministry is simply financially unable to undertake the entire exercise on its own.

On July 2014, Malaysian household debt had hit an astounding 89.2% of GDP with the breakdown of debts indicating car loans taking up the biggest chunk at 51%, This figure demonstrates that owning a car for transport is now a "need" as opposed to a "want" for Malaysians. Exacerbating matters, weak global economic outlook with plummeting oil revenues also forced a 2015 budget revision that left little room to work on a national open transportation framework.

Furthermore, more investments in roads and highways rather than public transport urges individuals to drive additionally, bringing more traffic and adding congestion as well as pressure on limited parking spots in the city centre.

It is a matter of time before the congestion issues in urban zones around Malaysia will be as awful as famous urban sprawls in Jakarta and Manila, where public transport is likewise sorely lacking .

The only glimmer of hope on the horizon is the continued investment in the mass rapid transit (MRT) project, which had already seen some 48 contract packages worth RM19.8bil offered since 2012 for various public transport-related projects.

The Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) has consistently focused on continued investment in the MRT Line 2, LRT3 and the high speed rail KL-Singapore as one of the drivers of nation towards the goal of becoming a high-income nation.

As the saying goes, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’; neither will a decent public transport system materialize in Malaysia in the next decade without the continued investment and political will of both state and federal governments.