The Need to Have Excellent Public Transport System for the Country’s Growth

Being a small country, the fact does not hinder Malaysia from having big visions. After only few decades of independence from British occupation, Malaysia has been seeing rapid development and shift from agriculture based economy to be one of the best New Industrialized Countries (NICs) in the world [Footnote 1].

Transportation is one of the most important aspect in ensuring a healthy and smooth growth of a region. Apart from getting produced goods transported smoothly, excellent transportation also helps to move people around in an effective manner. Population growth, especially in urban areas will make public transportation system a necessity in the locality. Therefore, typically for a city, there is a need to study and plan public transport system carefully in order to ensure better commuting and traveling experience, be it within the city or between cities.

Public transport system: A definition

Public transport system is a system that consists of a number of passenger transport services available for use by general public. Various modes of public transport are available in Malaysia such as Light Rail Transit (LRT), Monorail and also Komuter (Commuter) trains.

Why we need to improve our system?

Simple. Our major cities are densely-populated and the people need something that can move them around quickly and efficiently [Footnote # 2]. We can have good road network within the cities but public transport enables people to travel with so much less “footprints” compared to personal mode of transport. Imagine transporting hundreds of people in a train versus hundreds of people in their own cars. Definitely transporting people around with public transport can reduce total areas occupied by them. By investing more in developing excellent public transport system, urban population can benefit more, instead of letting them use their own cars and spend time commuting and enduring traffic jams. A study was done to determine the results between investing in public transport or just using personal transport. I quote, “..buses are more than 40 times more cost effective than roads as drivers of urban growth” (Duranton, Turner p. 32).

Pakatan Rakyat’s perspective

Let us begin with Pakatan Rakyat’s Manifesto (Source #2). In the manifesto, Pakatan promises that it will try to reduce congestion by 50% during its first term.

Pakatan is the first in the country to voice its concern towards car prices and toll charges. The exorbitant cost of them, according to Pakatan, hinders development of the country and make general population suffers more.

For many years, Pakatan also frequently lambasted Barisan’s decision to reduce oil subsidy.Fuel subsidy is necessary in Pakatan’s view in order to reduce the burden for general population. On the other hand, Barisan looks forward to channel subsidy savings to other parts in the budget that need more funding, such as education system and specific forms of aid towards the poor.

These policies by Pakatan shows their effort towards making life better, especially for young working people in urban areas. Most people in Klang Valley are use tolls and drive every day. Therefore, Pakatan chooses to address the needs of this group.

However, when there is more incentive for the general population to drive than to use public transport system, the utilization rate of public transport system will decrease because people will find more enticing reasons to have their own mode of transport instead of utilizing public transportation system. This approach brings out a set of concerns, among them includes excessive congestion and air pollution in city centers. Apart from that, little is mentioned about improving public transport in rural areas. Although the utilization rate is lower compared to city centers, intra-city transport also needs to be considered seriously. To our disappointment, so far Pakatan has not come up with anything concrete and constructive for development of inter-city transportation. Overall, the manifesto is good enough to attract the crowd but we need something more sensible for better development of the cities.

Barisan Nasional’s perspective

Compared to Pakatan, Barisan does not seem to put much emphasis on reducing car prices, toll charges and fuel subsidy. Instead, throughout the years, the government tries to channel more funding in improving our public transportation service. This can be seen in the introduction of KTM Komuter trains (which begins service around 1995). The Government, through Parbadanan Aset Keretapi (PAK) made decisions to buy new trains to alleviate the burden of commuters that have to wait for too long when there is increase in public transport utilization. The decisions, although too slow at times, is justified by the expensive price of new trains. For that same set of trains, commuters are paying a lot less compared to a number of other countries. Therefore, the profit from public transport is minimal while the companies need to cope with increasing demand to ensure better commuting experience for their customers.

In Barisan’s manifesto (Source #1), they promotes smoother integration between services. Buses and LRT/MRT will be integrated in a better way. From my analysis so far, the integration between stations needs improvement. It is something that the current government needs to work on. This is not easy, especially for Kuala Lumpur with scattered development and poor zoning of areas (commercial / industrial / residential). Apart from promoting better integration between services, Barisan also pledges to cater people with special needs better, elderly and physically challenged will have better facilities equipped for them at the stations.

I am not going to delve more about the “Thus far, we have” part because Barisan already has the mandate to administer from the rakyat. Therefore, they have been capable  to deliver things they have said in the manifesto. It will not be fair to argue on that with Pakatan because Pakatan has yet to hold access to the funds.

Conclusion

Everyone from all sides should do away with political differences when analyzing and giving suggestions to improve public transport sector in Malaysia. Being an Opposition team, Pakatan is doing its job well at times by giving constructive criticisms and questioning overpriced purchase and wasteful expenditure, such as the decision to buy a set of used Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs) for KTM Komuter years before. However, we must realize that not all measures taken by the current government is not beneficial for the general population and must be opposed. For example, Electrified Double Tracking Project has a lot of economic benefits despite its high initial cost [Source # 8].

Footnotes

  1. Currently, Malaysia stands among the top NICs in terms of Human Development Index (HDI) which stands at 0.769, according to a report by United Nations. Of note, HDI is a great way to measure the human side of a country’s development quantitatively because the index combines various elements such as life expectancy, education and income index.
  2. Kuala Lumpur has a population about 6,538 people per square km (Malaysian Census 2010), San Francisco (6,655 people per square km – United States Census 2010)
  3. Malaysia spent RM 6 billion for its highway operations services (Malaysian Economic Statistics 2011). In comparison, United States government spent 1.3% of their total GDP for USD 135.9 billion federal highways while the households spent about 20% of their expenditures to road transport (Duranton, Turner p. 1).
  4. In New York, Port Auhority New York – New Jersey (PANYNJ) a company that manages Lincoln Tunnel, chooses to increase the toll price for another dollar, another increase in just in two years’ time. [Source # 6]. The toll charges are said to cover expenses in building the new WTC. Apart from that, another PANYNJ service, PATH Train also observes increase of ticket price from USD 1.75 to USD 2.00. Commuters traveling between New York and New Jersey feel the pain when they have to pay more for their daily commute. They do not live in New York because it is too expensive as most New Yorkers are paying about HALF of their salary for their HOUSE RENTAL [Source # 7].
  5. In 2007, Kit Siang published an article in his blog, criticizing Electrified Double Tracking Project (EDTP) and undermines its benefit for railroad transport growth. We wrote a post commenting about his criticism there. Click on the above link for more information.

Sources

  1. Barisan Nasional’s Manifesto [link]
  2. Pakatan Rakyat’s Manifesto [link]
  3. Malaysian Economic Census 2011 [link]
  4. Urban growth and transportation by Gilles Duranton & Matthew A. Turner (University of Toronto). Draft published on November 25th 2008. JEL Classification: L91, N70, R11, R49. [link]
  5. The Evolving Urban Form: Kuala Lumpur by Wendell Cox. Published on January 12th 2013. http://www.newgeography.com/content/003395-the-evolving-urban-form-kuala-lumpur
  6. Fox New York – Port Authority toll increase goes into effect [link]
  7. NY Daily News – Study: Brooklynites spend half their paycheck just on rent – BY AMANDA COLEMAN AND JOTHAM SEDERSTROM / DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS [link]
  8. EDTP Benefits [link]

The Impact of Government Tranformation Programme (GTP) on Public Transport Sector

Recently I was contacted by a journalist from New Straits Times regarding the impact of Government Transformation Programme (GTP)’s public transport aspects on Malaysians in general. The interview is available below:

Question 1: Are the changes made felt by the people? Based on your own experience, does the changes affect travel time and comfort?

Answer: The changes made can be felt by people, especially everyday commuters and occasional travellers and tourists. I have been on six-car KTM Komuter set as well as the new four-car LRT and I can say the addition of newer trains under the GTP has provided a lot of added convenience for travellers. LRT services are relatively newer compared to KTM Komuter services in Malaysia and the trains seldom experience breakdowns. On the other hands, KTM has undergone a horrible experience with their ageing trains (Class 81, 82 and 83) and has to deal with numerous unexpected service delays, resulting in outstanding amounts of complaints, especially by travellers. Although the decision of buying trains is not made directly by KTM Berhad, we can see how much KTM Berhad tries to rectify the problems that they have.

I had a conversation in 2010 with a KTM personnel about the KTM “Hybrid Trains”, which consists of a set of KTM Komuter EMUs, a generator wagon and a diesel locomotive. Since KTM Berhad did not get new trains, they used every single resource that they have to mitigate the congestion, especially during morning and evening rush hours. The effort put my KTM workforce and management shows that they have been working incessantly to ensure the best service experience possible for the customers.

Now with the addition of ETS trains as well as six-car-sets (SCS), KTM Berhad’s workforce can work more efficiently and focus their effort to improve on other aspects of the service. The improvement on infrastructure has enabled KTM Komuter to stand on par with other service providers, such as RapidKL LRT and KL Monorail.

Question 2: According to the upcoming GTP report, the addition of infrastructure has increased the number of passengers in KTM and LRT by more than double. What is the connection of better public transport system and a ‘great’ city?

Answer: The definition of the word “City” itself implied a densely-populated area. Besides, cities are also being visited regularly by people who do not live there. Therefore, by providing local residents and outsiders a better public transport system, we can ensure the public get around smoother due to more streamlined traffic flow and also. By infrastructure improvement, the overall experience of using public transport is improved, leading more people to utilize it. Public transport is way more effective for the whole city instead of personal transport because it helps to move people around within smaller occupied area (compare cars on roads with trains on tracks).

Great cities around the world such as New York City and Tokyo has excellent public transport system. For example, in New York City, there are 538,000 tourists visiting the city every day. The huge number of tourists require a robust and smooth public transport system. Therefore, a unified transport company called Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) handles New York City Subway, the largest world underground subway network with over 1,000 km of rail network (covered by the Subway system) and 5.2 million daily ridership on weekdays. MTA has been doing a great job in providing smooth travel experience from an extensive subway network with up to the minute punctuality. Although the ageing stations and platform can be an eyesore at times, the overall experience is great for regular commuters and travellers. In conclusion, the efficient public transport system is a vital component in ensuring the success of a ‘great’ city, a city for us to live in and a city for others to visit.

Question 3: What are your recommendation for the government to improve the public transportation system in their next GTP 2?

Answer: The public transportation system improvement plan really needs to be future-proof. Our lack of attention towards future population growth is evident in Puduraya construction, resulting in heavy congestion around the area these days. To mitigate the congestion, additional express bus terminals are being constructed such as Bandar Tasik Selatan Integrated Southern Terminal and Hentian Duta. The Government should consider having better integration across these terminals in the future in order to provide smoother transit between bus terminals for added travellers’ convenience.

Careful planning can be seen in Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s ambitious plan of having KL International Airport (KLIA) some 60 km away from Kuala Lumpur. Although KLIA is far from the city centre, the robust integration between KLIA and the city can be seen in the construction of highways and establishment of KL Sentral as the central terminal in the city and KLIA Ekspres, a high-speed rail service that links KL Sentral and KLIA. A speedy 28-minute ride between KL Sentral and KLIA makes short-term visits to KL while being in Malaysia for flight transit more appealing. The added number of tourists in Kuala Lumpur also means the added amount of cash inflow.

In New York City, the existing building of Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan still stands today although it was constructed more than 100 years ago. The future-proofing of the planning and designing process take careful consideration of future population and tourist growth. The end result is clear; The Grand Central Terminal remains relevant and provides excellent travelling experience for regular commuters and tourists alike. Besides, they also have a number of other terminals such as the Port Authority Bus Terminal and New York Penn Stations. All of the mentioned stations/terminals have been operating for decades and the structure does not change much despite the rapid growth of the New York City, thanks to the careful and excellent study made by the planners back then. Besides, the integration between them is also ample, providing a smooth transition.