Waiting for the fast train (The Star)
Sunday February 20, 2011
By Hariati Azizan
Dare Malaysians imagine a speedy train journey and a comfortable bus service during peak hours?
ADVERTISING executive Raymond Kang cannot wait for the day when he can take the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) down to Kuala Lumpur’s Golden Triangle.
“I have not been down to Bukit Bintang for more than five years; it’s just too much of a hassle to drive all the way,” says the Sri Damansara resident.
Kang is one of many residents who are impatiently awaiting the MRT service to connect them to downtown.
However, like most, he is worried about the actual connectivity of the MRT.
“Now, we can already take the Putra LRT (light rapid transit) and Monorail if we want to go shopping in Bukit Bintang. It’s getting to the Putra station from my house that is the problem. And if you make the effort, there is no guarantee that you can get parking, even on a Sunday,” he griped, adding that changing trains is another hassle.
The bane of Malaysia’s city dwellers, the local public transport system is fraught with unreliable services, frequent delays and service cancellations. Even the previous upgrades – the development of the LRT and Monorail – have failed to meet users’ needs with its congestion, poor accessibility and even poorer connectivity.
Coupled with the growth in private car ownership, the public transport system has declined further – from a share of 34% in public transport modal in 1985 to between 10% and 12% in 2008.
Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) chief executive officer Datuk Seri Idris Jala admits that changing the mindset of car owners to give up their cars and use public transport is one of the biggest challenges the Government faces.
“First of all, we have to continue making sure that the journey time (for commuters) is reduced. We have introduced BET (Bus Express Transit), which uses expressways to reduce the journey time by almost half.
“If it takes 65 minutes to commute from Shah Alam to Pasar Seni, you’ll be persuaded to (use public transport) if it takes less than 30 minutes,” he explains.
Other measures include improving the capacity of the LRT and accessibility to the public transport services.
Idris feels that the improvements in the urban public transport system have proved effective in boosting the volume of passengers on the LRT and BET express buses, which use the faster routes – the LRT ridership has seen an increase of 2.21 million passengers while BET usage has spiked by 127%. Another reason for the hike in the number of LRT passengers, he adds, is the introduction of 20 new LRT trains, each of which comprise four sets of carriages.
Still, Idris concedes, maintaining the service level and ensuring its reliability are crucial to keep commuters on public transport.
The Government Transformation Programme (GTP) had aimed to raise the public transport modal share from 12% in 2008 to 17% last year with its Urban Public Transport (UPT) National Key Results Area (NKRA).
In boosting the public transport system, a few key aims have been identified. These include improving reliability and cutting journey times, enhancing comfort and convenience, and improving accessibility and connectivity to the services available.
The rollout has shown some improvement – there have been positive changes in high peak period congestion, reduced frequent delays and cancellations as well as improved connectivity between modes in certain areas.
Idris is optimistic that the programmes implemented will contribute towards a further boost in the system, particularly in achieving the 2012 target of having 25% of people use public transport.
He cites the slight increase in the use of public transport last year – approximately 10,000 more people are taking public transport in the morning peak hours daily, an increase of 4.4% when compared to 2009.
Bandar Utama resident Jeff Lowe, however, laments the traffic jams that still clog up Kuala Lumpur’s main roads.
“It is important to remember that you must get a massive number of workers to work on time but look at the traffic jam at peak hours. If the public transport is not efficient, people will just get a car – as we have seen in the last 20 years,” he adds.
“You can’t expect people to stop buying cars because they offer freedom of mobility. Even in countries where the public transport system is excellent like Britain and Singapore, they cannot stop people from buying cars.”
Idris says we still have some way to go to get more people to use public transport – only 11% of people used urban public transport here compared to London (90%) and Singapore (60%) in 2009.
The numbers look good though, he assures.
“We moved from 11% (urban public transport ridership) to 13% last December.”
He nonetheless agrees that it will be tough to get people to give up their cars. Hence, under the GTP, the plan is to get car users to reduce their car usage.
One initiative is the development of Park and Ride facilities for LRT and KTM stations, which would be completed with more than 6,000 additional parking bays by next year.
For Lowe, however, the UPT is 30 years too late.
“Now, we don’t even have reserve lines or bus lanes. In the early 1980s, we were told by expert urban planners that if we don’t plan for our public transport, we will have a traffic problem. They said their studies projected how rural-urban migration would affect the traffic.”
His other grouse is the lack of public feedback from the Government before embarking on projects.
“All they need to do is to conduct a simple survey. Now, after the project has been approved with a timeline for completion, what good is feedback from the people? How much can be taken into account?” he argues.
Encouraged by the focus given to connectivity in the UPT plans, Lowe hopes that the Government has taken into consideration the whole of Klang Valley.
“You must consider the whole area so that people can travel to any part of KL for work or other reasons from where they live. For one, the interconnection between buses must be well-planned.”
A regular bus user, Thelvi, says she tries to take the bus more often but comfort and congestion is still an issue.
“I have noticed that the service is more frequent and there are more buses but they are still crowded. It is really bad during the peak hours, when everyone is rushing to get to work or get home from work.
“You are stuck in a packed bus and the bus is not moving at all on the highway. That is torture,” says the salesgirl at one of the major departmental stores in Damansara.
Several agencies including the Transport Ministry are working hard to improve the bus service in the country. The ministry for one has been studying the Bus Rapid Transit system in the Klang Valley to improve its services.
Transport Minister Datuk Seri Kong Cho Ha says some of the initiatives include 306 new bus stops at locations where there are currently no shelters.
Commuters in and around the Klang Valley will also get about 470 new RapidKL buses by the end of the year to improve current services, especially feeder services to/from rail stations.
For the KTM Komuter service, 38 new sets of six-car trains will be delivered by the end of the year while existing stations will also undergo upgrades and improvements.
Integration and pedestrian facilities at key stations will also be upgraded to provide more comfort and convenience for commuters.
The current buzz is of course the MRT, which when introduced in 2016, is expected to push the number of public transport users to 50% by 2020.
One future public transport “convert”, a Bandar Tun Hussein Onn resident who only wants to be known as Yusuf, says he cannot wait for the MRT to be completed.
“I am very happy. The public transport that we have now from Cheras to KL city centre is bad. The Cheras-Kajang road is always jammed, and there is no other alternative,” says the GLC manager who commutes to the city centre by car daily.
“The MRT will reduce travelling time for everyone. Hopefully, many people will take the MRT, which will reduce the number of cars on the road. But if the Government wants the people to use the train, they need to make sure that the feederbus service is efficient –frequent and on time.
“There will still be a traffic problem if everyone drives to the MRT station, and that will defeat its purpose in improving the environment.”
Another concern is the ticket price.
“We hope the cost will not be transferred to the passengers. They will have to study the related fares too, such as car park and feederbus fare and factor them in as the total cost incurred on a passenger.
“Like any public transport development and improvement, the cost should not be transferred to the users. The UPT should not burden the public,” he adds